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Beef consumption down but not demand

By Miranda Reiman

Domestic beef consumption will decrease this year. According to the analysts, that seems like a given.

With tight cattle supplies already, as producers (hopefully) hold back their best heifers and slow culling, the crunch will build.

Earlier this year, CattleFax predicted a 4.5 percent drop in U.S. per-capita beef consumption.

We can only expect other proteins to fill the gap. Chicken is always the cheaper alternative, but that spread between poultry and pork prices and poultry and beef prices has become more dramatic.

Collectively, people are eating less beef. That’s a fact.

On the surface, it seems like bad news. But the decreasing per-capita number can create an incorrect assumption that beef demand is down.

It’s not. Beef consumption is down.

“Let’s not confuse market share with demand,” Kevin Good, CattleFax senior analyst, told us back in February.

He predicted a 7 percent increase in retail meat prices for the year. People will eat less beef, but they’ll pay the higher prices. They won’t quit buying beef though, at least not yet.

The higher prices do increase the burden. Much is expected.

I have a hard time imagining what it’s like to stand at the meat counter and decide what’s worth it and what isn’t. After all, we have an entire freezer full of beef from our family, and rarely go more than 24 hours without dipping into that supply.

But I do know what it’s like to anticipate a good meal. We’ll plant our patch of sweet corn soon. That means in about 10 weeks the first “corn on the cob” of the season ought to be ready.

That phrase elicits a distinct memory, a taste, for many: melted butter; the warm, crispy kernels. It’s, well, pretty sweet.

We anticipate that first taste of sweet corn—much like the first BLTs with garden tomatoes, the first time we dig up some new potatoes, and on and on.

I celebrate with a lot of beef, but admittedly I have no clue what it feels like to shell out a big chunk of my “fun money” on what could possibly be the only steak I have all month. I don’t know what it’s like to wait all week to grill that purchased beef on a Friday night.

But there are consumers all over this country who do that. They wait. They anticipate.

That gives us in the beef business pretty lofty expectations to live up to. Beef must perform. It must impress.

When I sink my teeth into the first sweet corn of the season—perfectly crispy, dripping with butter—in that moment I can hardly think of anything more satisfying.

And that’s what we want people to think of beef.

Every time we create that experience, we build demand, pure and simple.

When we produce beef so great that consumers literally demand more of the same, then we can see our way to the day when we can talk about beef consumption and demand heading in the same direction.

Are you doing your part to make sure that will happen?

Date: 5/12/2014



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