The beef industry in North America is changing rapidly. The invasive technology that introduced the concept of ground beef as a burger still holds the attention of the majority of consumers and the largest single slice of market share. Today, over 60 per cent of all beef sold in the U.S. is ground product.
One could conclude that this is so because of economics. The less folks have to spend the more they will go to the ground product. This is true to a point. As beef prices continue to climb the choice of product becomes more important. Although the dollar value on beef sales has increased, the volume has been stagnant. Now all products are expensive at the counter and ground beef is the protein of choice. Eighty-three per cent of all consumers are eating ground beef at least once per month, and that is a repeatable and predictable pattern that is not seen on other beef offerings. Consumers of all ages and in all walks of life buy ground beef. Half of the consumers buy a fresh prepared or frozen patty.
At the end of the day, the evolution of ground beef has been based on convenience. With 98 per cent of all ground beef sales from the supermarket being prepared as a meal at home, there is much to be said about a foolproof product that any person, regardless of culinary skill, can prepare. Most beef patties hit the frying pan or the microwave and that data is a stunning contrast with regard to consumer data that focuses on health. In fact, it is ground beef that consumers ignore in the health debate. To put it frankly, convenience and taste override health concerns. Everybody loves a burger and that includes the wealthy client. This is evident in the growing offering of high-end and expensive hamburger offerings as consumers look for a premium beef experience that they can afford.
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Whole muscle grind is just starting to gain in popularity but if taste and quality are secondary drivers, then this concept hits the mark. Companies are looking at ways to deliver the goods and the market most certainly has been spiced with the demand as 85 and 90 lean now sell at a premium to the overall cutout value of beef. The key here is that lean is in and that conversation takes on a whole new direction.
Several authors have posed the question suggesting that cattle should be raised and fed specifically for this market. The concept is not new but outside of the cultural norm. I call it butcher’s block, or the inability to conceptualize the data and put an action plan together to meet consumer need and demand. Should Canadians consider the value of ground beef in the market place and examine the traditional feeding patterns that have added value to the grain industry?
Feeding for the grind involves forage fed cattle for a longer period of time. That means owning the inventory longer, which may translate into risk. Traditionally this would be the conversation. Today, producing ground beef on certain sets of cattle can be aided or dare we say — directed — by genomics. When cattle are predetermined not to quality grade, they most certainly fit the bill for the lean ground trade. Can we be lean in our approach to the future of the Canadian beef industry?
All things are possible but between the data, science and the technology, there is most certainly an economic incentive to value-add to a subset of animals. Capturing the cutout value at the ranch level takes another set of skills but most certainly the capability to travel up the chain with partner in hand is not nearly as formidable as it was a decade ago. In addition, the added value of perception and the opportunity to brand the process is looming as large as a mountain landscape.
Once seen as the poor country cousin in the meat case, the ground section has garnered new respect. This love affair with the burger is not limited to our domestic market as the burger transcends cultural and generational gaps. Canada’s reputation in terms of food safety is rather impeccable from an international perspective and that is highly desirable. Our willingness to embrace these opportunities, though, is somewhat sluggish and we tend to have a great fear of colouring outside of the lines because of the economic interconnectivity between grain and cattle. In all fairness we must consider the even stronger economic connectivity between cattle and grass and the lean approach to production.
Convenience, taste and quality all resonate with the consumer of the day. Both systems offer this in the product. When it comes to health consciousness, ground beef (especially lean ground) is forgiven because it is a North American addiction. High-end burgers are one of the fastest growing areas in food service and now featured on more than 50 per cent of all menus. The product has evolved and is now heavily branded and value-added. Burgers contain flavour, vegetable, cheeses and a variety of spices, and are available as patties, bulk, chub, and in value-added presentations and as part of prepared meals.
Information and technology allow us to be lean in our approach and direct in our target marketing while preserving our cultural heritage and reducing overall production costs — a strong set of considerations when more than half of consumption is ground beef.
Brenda Schoepp is a motivating speaker and mentor who works with young entrepreneurs across Canada and around the world. She can be contacted through her website brendaschoepp.com. All rights reserved. Brenda Schoepp 2014