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Animal Science: Today and Tomorrow

November 27, 2012

Dr. Tom Troxel  

Dr. Michael L. Looper

River Valley Beef Cattle Conference set for Feb. 12 at Ozark

Beef cattle outlook, rebuilding the cowherd, pasture management following the drought,and alternative feeds for beef cattle are among the agenda topics for the 2013 River Valley Beef Cattle Conference set for Feb. 12 at the I-40 Livestock Auction located at Exit 37 near Ozark, AR. The River Valley Beef Cattle Conference is a joint educational effort by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture and Farm Credit of Western Arkansas.

With the 2012 hot dry condition continuing into the fall and winter, the topics were chosen to address the current needs and condition of today’s cattle producer.  Pastures are in the worst condition many have ever seen and hay supplies are still short. What can producers do now to help themselves as spring rains arrive? This program will answer that and many more questions.

The conference is from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and registration is $20 at the door. For more information, contact your county extension office.

What Consumers Want

Strengthening consumer preference for beef requires a combination of anticipating the target consumers’ needs and reaching them with a solution that beef uniquely offers. The beef checkoff has a long history of communicating beef’s primary equities in a relevant and compelling way. As of July 2012, 71% of consumers say beef is a good balance of taste and nutrition compared to 57% in January 2007. Additionally, 70% of consumers say they feel good about eating beef compared to 62% in January 2007.

Undoubtedly, an essential uniqueness that beef offers is its taste and flavor. People fall in love with beef for its undeniable flavor, juiciness and the memorable experience it brings to the table. While beef still has huge cravability, chicken has achieved high and acceptable taste scores for many.

Clearly there is growing movement toward knowing more about where food comes from. Those most concerned want reassurance that their food is produced in a way that matches their ethical values. When it comes to how beef is raised, word of mouth is rampant and often an influential consumer serves as an “expert” while others listen and absorb.

Could get to a single communication platform that could both help generate demand for beef and strengthen the image of how beef is raised? Unfortunately, the simple answer was no. Our biggest beef fans do not want to think about how their beef is raised – even if it’s just simple images of pastoral land and cowboys on the range. More than anything, we don’t want to disrupt the love affair Americans have with beef. Messages about beef’s nutrient rich profile, merged with a strong taste reminder, were more highly ranked overall than a message about production. Perhaps most importantly, the beef nutritional profile message was what consumers said motivated them to choose beef more often.

So what about the people who do want to think and talk about how beef is raised? Well, there is an intersection between beef nutrition and production practices – long-term health. So a production message directed to health conscious consumers that brings in a beef nutrition message can make them feel better about choosing beef.

We found the most effective strategy for reaching consumers who care about beef production is a back-and-forth dialogue that answers their questions, not mass marketing. These are engaged consumers who want to have a conversation about the issues they care about – like what our practices mean for their long-term health – rather than just seeing pretty images or hearing short sound-bites.


Consumers rank health and nutrition as the leading reasons for eating less beef. Misinformation about beef’s nutritional profile has led consumers to limit their beef experience–some describing it as a guilty pleasure. While consumers see beef as powerful, strong, nourishing, high in protein and iron, and healthy by itself, they do not see it as lean or physically fit.

When building a meal, most consumers begin with the main dish. We want beef to maintain the lead choice as the premier protein. However, 67% of consumers believe chicken is extremely good for their health compared to 37% for beef. Interestingly, while consumers have more positive perceptions of chicken than beef, they do not appear to be any more knowledgeable about the nutrients in chicken than those in beef.
Beef is an excellent or good source of 10 essential nutrients such as zinc, iron, protein and B-vitamins is relevant, useful, credible and motivating. This statement is so eye-opening and new to most consumers that it works well on its own. In fact, the research found that consumers who eat beef less often are less likely to believe messages about the body benefits offered through beef’s nutritional bundle. They first need to learn about the basics – that beef has 10 essential nutrients and provides lean cuts.

Small portion sizes are a solution for many consumers because of the underlying consensus that people eat too much. Recent market research found that 67% of total beef eaters said that if they found smaller, expertly trimmed 4-5 ounce steaks in the meat case, it would encourage them to choose beef more often. Three ounce cooked portions may be considered too small by many men, and not as satisfying.

Consumer research has shown that almost half (45%) of Americans say they are extremely or very likely to add one more beef meal per week after they’ve learned about nutrient-rich lean beef and how it compares favorably to chicken. Beef’s nutritional bundle, great taste, specifics around leanness and protein are the messages that will get the most traction. These learnings will help strengthen consumer preference for beef (Source: Beef Issue Quarterly: Summer 2012 Vol.3 No. 4).

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