Like the United States economy, the beef industry has also had a tough year, but it’s coming to an optimistic close with positive upswings in consumer attitudes about beef.

Here’s what gives me hope. The latest checkoff-funded consumer study shows improvement in the attitudes about beef’s taste, nutrition and value1. We’re not only poised to bounce back from changing consumption patterns in reaction to the recession, but we’ve measured significant shifts to long-term nutritional beliefs. Seventy-three percent of consumers believe beef is a good balance of taste and nutrition — nearly a 20 percent growth over the past two years. And for the first time in tracking history, consumers who say they are eating more beef than they did six months ago are also placing it ahead on nutrition. What remains constant: Beef continues to score well on taste, safety and value perceptions.

The results are inspiring, but it also means now is the time to press on and continue innovative ways to drive demand and enhance profitability. By developing new beef cuts with added value and launching new merchandising techniques, NCBA is utilizing beef checkoff resources to satisfy the needs of all the food-industry segments by providing the best value for each product while striving to maximize potential return to industry stakeholders.

The creation of new beef products requires an understanding of beef customers in order to develop products that meet their needs in deliver value. The Beef Innovations Group works to increase the dollar value of the beef carcass with the ultimate goal of increasing the return on investment for America’s farmers and ranchers by examining the undervalued portions of the carcass to determine the maximum value that can be realized for each sub-primal. Through the product-development process, new processes and methods are explored for adding maximum value for each muscle while providing products that meet consumer needs.

In the near future, new cuts/products from the round will be introduced as well. Many of the products from the round may be used by manufacturers as value-added items, such as fajita meat or deli roast beef applications, and likely will include steak products as well. Additionally, CattleFax projects that the work being done on the round can add $20-30 to the value of the carcass.

Over the years, middle meat beef cuts, such as the ribeye and top loin steak have increased in size as a result of larger cattle. This increase has caused some frustration to suppliers and consumers, as portions are not only becoming too large, but the unit costs are increasing along with the size. In order to provide new options for consumers, our retail marketing team launched the Beef Alternative Merchandising (BAM) program. Retailers can now feature beef cuts from the top loin, ribeye and top sirloin to meet the needs of consumers looking for alternative cuts. These beef cuts include a variety of steaks and filets, ranging from 4 to 6 ounces, as well as petite roasts portioned to 1.5- to 2.5-pound sizes.

Consumers have shown very positive response to these cuts and the cutting technique. In recent focus groups, retail shoppers offered several suggestions of their own, like marketing the cuts as a collection of products. They would also like to see cooking tips, recipes and seasoning packets in order to help educate them on BAM cuts. Consumers also had an instinct that these cuts would cost more, but felt that it was worth it. With this positive feedback, many retailers are currently testing the BAM concept throughout the country.