In two decades, poultry producers increased consumer consumption of chickens by 40 pounds per capita. In the same era, 1980 to 2001, beef consumption slowly slipped.
Scott Brown, meat economist at the University of Missouri, believes beef producers can take a page from the poultry playbook and boost demand. Beef producers can compete at the meat case by changing breeding, management and marketing.
The chicken rise and beef decline came at a time when poultry producers could quickly change their flocks. In the era of poultry demand, consumers were looking for a healthy product in the meat case, and beef found it difficult to compete, Brown said.
Then the Atkins diet and growth in midlevel restaurants drove beef demand higher, and with the recession, consumers downsized from steaks to hamburger but also started buying, and paying more, for choice and prime grade steaks to cook and eat at home.
"From this point forward, there seems to be a role for high-quality beef," Brown said. "This can increase overall demand for beef."
The upscaling occurs in domestic markets, but especially in the export trade including a growing beef trade to Japan and South Korea.
"The potential for marketing premium product is vast," Brown said. "However, it will require coordination and commitment that have been elusive in the cattle industry."
Studies of beef marketing show that the higher the quality of the beef, the larger the premium increases.
"As the economy recovers, producers supplying high-quality beef will be the biggest winners in this new demand environment," Brown said.
Burger market sizzling
Consumption of hamburgers in the U.S. is significantly higher than just two years ago, with nearly half of consumers now saying they eat a burger at least once a week compared with 38 percent in 2009.
Research recently released by Technomic Inc., reported online by Drovers CattleNetwork, suggests one reason for the increase is the continued prominence of burgers on quick-service value menus.
Technomic's "Burger Consumer Trend Report" examined the burger consumption, purchasing behavior, attitudes and preferences of more than 1,500 consumers.
The research indicates that American consumers are developing changing attitudes toward meat and meat production. For instance, findings from the study include:
º Younger consumers are highly interested in vegetarian burger options, with 23 percent of consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 saying it is important for vegetarian burgers to be available on restaurant menus.
º The importance of health-halo attributes such as all-natural, hormone-free, steroid-free and antibiotic-free has grown since 2009.
º The most commonly offered cheese on burgers at limited-service restaurants is American, but cheddar is by far the most popular in the full-service segment.
"Consumers increasingly call for healthy, high-quality burger options, particularly when it comes to the meat used to make their burgers," Technomic analysts said in a release. "More of today's consumers than those polled in 2009 say it is important that the meat used to make their burgers is raised naturally, without the use of additives, and sourced locally."
Compiled by Herald-Whig Staff Writer Deborah Gertz Husar