Steering Ahead
Processors work around supply and demand situations to invigorate the beef category.
What a difference a few months makes. As a reminder of the cyclical nature of animal protein markets, the beef industry faced tight supplies last year and earlier this year, then rebounded slightly with higher production in the summer.
Beef marketers as a result, have had to deal with price issues for a good part of 2006, even as they kept busy in other aspects of their business, from product R&D to case-ready packaging to nutrition communications. The good news through the most recent ups and downs is that consumers still like to eat beef.
“Demand has been very solid,” relates Randy Irion, director, retail marketing, for the Denver-based National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), noting that in June, beef pound volume was up 6.3 percent from the prior year.
In general, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics, per capita consumption of beef in 2005 weighed in at 65.5 pounds on a retail weight basis. That figure reflects a slight decrease from the previous year, which was the pinnacle period for high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets. With higher production and volume predicted for this year, consumption may remain at current levels or perhaps tick up for 2006, again dependent upon production and other factors.
With more supply in the pipeline, retailers this summer have started featuring more beef in advertising and higher-profile merchandising programs, according to Irion. Industry-funded marketing initiatives have continued to fuel demand for the protein as well, including NCBA’s summer grilling program, radio and print ad campaign and a burger promotion with Sutter Home winery, among other elements.
NCBA has also worked through its Beef Innovation Group to encourage development of new products. Irion cites the introduction of the Flat Iron steak, already making inroads in foodservice, into major retail meat cases in supermarkets such as Kroger and Albertsons stores. “Right now, the exposure that item is getting is increasing tremendously,” he relates.
Irion also points to the advent of more fully cooked beef products, a trend firmly in line with other protein categories. “The heat-and-serve categories continue to grow. And beyond the original varieties, there have been other new items and reformulations of existing ones,” he says.
On the flip side, frozen products are also expanding beef’s presence. In addition to the frozen hamburger niche — which continues to benefit from rising sales across several brands — other frozen beef cuts are available. Tyson Foods, Inc., for instance, recently added a line of fresh frozen steaks under its brand, including Peppered Center Cut varieties.
It’s only natural, so to speak, that the industry-wide expansion of natural meat products is evident in the fresh beef category. Although natural and organic combined account for approximately two percent of beef purchases in this country, there is a definite buzz to the niche and consumer studies indicate growing interest; according to Cattle Buyers Weekly, the natural beef segment is now a $1 billion business. “I think natural is one of those things that will be with us for a while,” agrees Irion.
Tyson Foods has heeded the trend, teaming up with Certified Angus Beef LLC earlier this year to market Certified Angus Beef (CAB) brand natural beef. Tyson also is set to offer its own Star Ranch Natural Angus Beef. “Consumer demand for natural beef is increasing, and we believe there’s an opportunity for us to grow with it. While we have every confidence in our traditional beef products, we also believe in giving our customers a choice,” comments Noel White, group vice president of Tyson Fresh Meats.
National Beef Packing, Co. LLC, a U.S. Premium Beef Company in Kansas City, Mo., also focused its recent efforts on a new line of NatureSource beef, produced from cattle raised without the use of antibiotics and hormones. This follows last year’s launch of the company’s NatureWell natural beef, produced using cattle with minimal antibiotic treatment.
There are other examples of beef processors going the natural route. Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, LLC, of Arkansas City, Kan., recently unveiled pre-marinated sirloin tri-tips in five flavors, and on the organic side, Denver-based Maverick Ranch brand has expanded its line of organic meats with a new ribeye steak. NP
Annual Beef Forecasts
  2002 2003 2004200520062007
Production (millions lb.)27,09026,23824,54824,68326,10326,755
Per capita consumption (retail lb.)*67.664.966.165.566.566.8
Beef and veal exports (millions lb.)2,4472,5184616891,0231,385
Beef and veal imports (millions lb.)3,2183,0063,6793,5593,2583,340
*Per capita meat consumption data are revised, incorporating a new population series from the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis based on the 2000 Census.
Source: World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates and Supporting Materials
Published in Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, www.ers.usda.gov/publications/ldp