Industry committee sets beef research priorities
Each day animal and meat scientists across the United States uncover ways to increase consumer satisfaction with beef.
Representing all segments of the industry, the Joint Product Enhancement Committee plays a role as it identifies focus areas and recommends funding of program activities to the Beef Promotion Operating Committee.
The idea is to improve customer satisfaction and drive beef demand. At the Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show in Denver, Colo., recently, committee members met to discuss priorities for the coming year.
"Quality today is all the rage. It's taking hold of this country in a real and transforming way," Tom Brink, of J & F Oklahoma Holdings, told the group.
As the president and chief operating officer of the cattle ownership arm of Five Rivers Cattle Feeding, one of the largest U.S. cattle feeders, Brink gave his perspective on the movement toward higher product quality.
"We argued for a long time whether you could even get a premium...we've made real progress," he said. Market signals direct many cow-calf businesses, but not all.
"It's the person who doesn't have a plan at all that costs us all money, because those cattle don't have as much value," Brink said.
They also produce beef less favorable to consumers, the committee's main focus.
A smaller beef checkoff budget--down by more than $600,000 from 2004 to 2005--creates challenges, but also helps hone their goals, said Larry Corah, vice president for Certified Angus Beef LLC, who serves in an advisory role.
He shared the three main areas for checkoff-funded product enhancement research in the coming year: flavor, aging and premium grinds.
"I don't think anyone can dispute the fact that flavor is what drives consumer satisfaction," Corah said. "It's what's really keeping us in this game and allowing us the demand we have."
The committee is encouraging research that looks at new technologies to predict beef flavor.
"Our goal is to better understand the taste and consistency--focusing on the positive attributes, not necessarily off flavors," he said.
Right behind taste is the need for tenderness, and aging is one of the most widely recognized ways to improve that trait.
"Yet there are so many components of aging--time, temperature, humidity, etc.," he said. The committee wants to see studies on how those variables affect the eating experience, especially in product with Slight-50 to Small-50 marbling scores (high Select to low Choice).
Regardless of quality grade, Americans buy a lot of hamburger.
An estimated 97 percent of us consume ground beef. It accounts for 67 percent of foodservice beef sales and nearly half of retail beef purchases.
"That in itself tells you the importance of the product," Corah said. "But the emerging and growing point of differentiation with channel operators is this whole area of premium grinds."
He referenced fast-casual restaurants built around the "better burger" concept, like Smashburger and Five Guys Burgers and Fries.
"They're having quite an impact on our industry," he said.
The goal is to understand how non-traditional sub-primal grind sources and specific fat sources impact the product.
"We need to evaluate the effect on flavor profiles, fatty acid profiles, shelf life and numerous other attributes, and then compare that to other grinds," Corah said.
Research proposals were accepted through Feb. 1, and the committee will select successful projects in the next few months.