ALEXANDRIA, Minn. – Beef Checkoff organizations see 2017 as an important year for beef sales. It is expected that “Millennials” will begin outspending “Baby Boomers” that year.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) is getting the word out that Millennials matter, and those born between 1980 and 2000 need opportunities to learn about the value of beef to their diet, as well as the enjoyment of eating beef.
“The Boomers’ spending is going down. The households are getting small. Millennials’ spending is going up. They are getting their careers, forming households. I would say, ‘Go where the money is,’” said John Lundeen, NCBA senior executive director of market research.
Lundeen spoke at the 2013 Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Convention on Dec. 13. He gave an update on “the state of beef” in 2013 with a view toward the increasing influence of the Millennial generation.
Lundeen heads up the NCBA team that directs checkoff-funded consumer research.
The market research team undertakes programs that help NCBA groups improve the impact of their consumer programs. He’s overseen hundreds of consumer studies.
Lundeen also keeps an eye on trends in the beef industry, and he says the U.S. beef industry has made a number of strides in the domestic market.
He pointed out that the All Fresh Beef Demand Index increased in 2013 compared to prior year levels. This index calculates the relationship of per capita beef consumption and all-fresh beef demand prices. This number shows that domestic beef demand has increased and is strong.
In addition, beef sales rebounded in all types of foodservices in 2012.
When the 2009 recession hit, U.S. beef sold about $24.5 billion into domestic food service channels that year. By 2012, that amount had increased to $32 billion, said Lundeen.
“Beef prices were moderate for 2012-2013, and our volume went up a little bit for food service domestically in the last year,” he said. “It’s still a $7.5-$8 billion gain since when the recession started to hit.”
Evidence suggests that consumer perceptions of beef are solid, with the exception of “good value,” which refers to the product available for the price.
He explained that in 2007, consumers were asked if the positives of beef outweighed the negatives. At that time, 70 percent of consumers said the positives outweighed the negatives. Tracking to 2013, consumer confidence in beef has risen to 76 percent, Lundeen said.
“Consumers feel good about our product,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that we can’t get better. (Consumer confidence in) chickens are at about 90 percent, largely driven by nutrition and value.”
Studies show that beef industry and checkoff investments in education and promotion are helping. Specifically, consumers are becoming more aware of the availability of beef lean cuts.
Consumers also say they appreciate the taste of beef, said Lundeen.
When consumers were asked their priorities for their evening meal, the greatest number said they were looking for food that tasted great. About 91 percent of those surveyed said great taste was extremely important – and that beef satisfies that priority.
Next important is food safety, and more consumers are satisfied with the safety of eating beef now compared with in the past.
“A lot of folks across the beef industry have worked on this and the Beef Checkoff made an investment in this area,” he said. “We can’t fall down after making some improvements in food safety.”
Many consumers are also looking for a good value in their meat entrees, and about 60 percent say that beef is a good value for the money as compared with 80 percent for chicken.
“That’s our competition, and chicken has taken share from beef over the last 20 years,” he said. “They’ve done a good job of making a consistent product, and that gives us something to always focus on going forward.
“We have to make sure the consumer sees the value difference between what beef provides as a product and what chicken provides.”
Domestically, the beef industry faces challenges.
Lundeen said that studies show the frequency of beef consumption is down. The U.S. consumer was eating beef about 2.7 times per week, and that is down to twice per week.
“We’re going to have to win that back, as our supply comes on stream,” he said.
Some consumers are also expressing concern about beef production, science and technology. Although this is a small minority of U.S. citizens, they are willing to share their beliefs and communicate with those around them.
“Only 64 percent of folks think the positives of how cattle are raised outweigh the negatives,” he said. “That is where we have to make sure the consumer is comfortable.”
While beef has the opportunity to nourish the 80 million individuals that make up the Millennial generation, many need more instruction in cooking a variety of beef products.
Unless someone has a personal interest in learning how to cook, they may be intimidated by the thought of braising a roast or broiling a steak. Many young people have turned to social media to successfully cook without a cookbook or course.
Most consumers view the purchase of a steak as an investment, and if they aren’t sure they can create a delicious product, they may choose not to purchase it, said Lundeen.
“You pick up your steak skills over time,” he said. “You learn how to use your grill, you learn how to cook it, and you learn how to make sure you don’t overcook it. It takes time to make good steaks.”
It’s important, said Lundeen, to use social media and other forms of promotion and education to share the positive messages of good tasting and tender beef.
“We can talk to them about the great taste of beef, and we can talk to them about how our cattle are raised at the same time,” he said. “If we can bring the Millennial onboard, their kids are eating beef also.”