Sometimes I think I’m an average beef consumer. But then in the grocery store checkout line, as I put my items on the conveyer, I realize my purchases rarely contain any meat.
Not unlike many in the ag community, my family has a deep-freezer full of protein, so during normal weeks we’re dipping into that supply daily. When we are out to eat, I know what the USDA quality grading system means and generally how to decipher branded beef claims.
I don’t stand at the meat case overwhelmed with questions. When I don’t know the answers, I personally know chefs, meat scientists and other experts who are more than happy to help.
As a beef producer, perhaps you feel like you “know” your fair share, too. Not every consumer is that comfortable with beef. Take this snippet, for example: Nearly a quarter of the general public say they’ve never cooked a beef roast, and 43 percent cook one roast or less per year.
Most consumers say they don’t have enough time and/or don’t know how to cook a roast. Yet, as intimidating as it is, Oklahoma State University research shows nearly three-quarters of Americans say beef is their No. 1 choice for protein. (That’s what we like to hear!) In consumer study results, we often see this truth: “The higher the quality, the better.”
A recent Kansas State University study by meat scientist Travis O’Quinn backs that up. Marbling is generally a key driver of that quality rating, the research says. In this study, O’Quinn had panelists rate “overall liking” on steaks varying from Select all the up to Prime, including a couple of branded beef options. The liking rose linearly as quality increased, with Select at 55.8 on a 100-point scale, compared to 69.2 for Prime.
Individual marks on tenderness, juiciness and flavor showed similar patterns. The participants ranked these in a blind test, meaning they didn’t know which steaks were which — but in real life, we usually know. There’s a brand or a description on a menu. Retail signage and packaging stickers give clues. If I were to stand at that meat case, I’d know exactly what I was paying for and what was “worth it.”
So in the second part of the study, O’Quinn identified the steaks by brand or grade, and do you know what happened? Consumer liking increased for Prime and the premium brand, while it decreased for some of the lower quality or more general categories.
The academic world calls this “brand lift.” I call it knowing what you want and expecting more from those you trust. To remain the favorite protein, especially when we’re the most expensive one, we must make sure that trust is well-placed, that the product performs. Because the average beef eater isn’t making meal plans around which cuts are in the freezer.
They’re voting at the meat case, and we want them to vote beef every time.
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