Colorado ranchers trying to keep steak on the dinner table |

Colorado ranchers trying to keep steak on the dinner table

DENVER, Colorado ” Changing demographics, new values and a tight economy with rising layoffs are changing American’s taste for beef, a researcher told attendees at the International Livestock Congress-USA on Tuesday.

Health and nutrition are becoming more important to consumers, convenience is driving how families buy food, and people have higher expectations for taste, consistency and food safety, said John Lundeen, executive director of market research for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

And then there’s the economy.

Perceptions that people have less money to spend are affecting how willing consumers are to splurge on steak dinners.

“Whatever they perceive is how they shop,” Lundeen said. “We need to keep people excited about steaks on the plate for dinner in the recession.”

Though beef has kept its place on restaurant menus, diners are eating fewer ribeyes, tenderloins and New York strips, Lundeen said, and the amount of all cuts being served is down, except for ground beef.

A survey of consumers in September showed 61 percent said they are changing their food purchases because of higher food prices, he said. Of those, almost half said they were eating less beef, either by cutting it out altogether or by trading down to hamburgers from steaks, for example.

One key for keeping beef at the dinner table may be offering more frozen and ready-to-eat options, as busy households scrap fresh-cooked suppers for quick meals, in many cases prepared and sold at supermarkets.

“Are we a convenient product that you can make a steak on a Tuesday night?” Lundeen said.

Meanwhile consumers are growing increasingly more concerned about sustainability and what goes into their food, showing there is demand for higher-priced organic and natural meat, Lundeen said.

However in British markets, organic beef is selling at prices close to those for regular beef, said Monty Brown, a processing-retail consultant in Europe for the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

While tight budgets are making it harder for people to buy organic now, surveys suggest long-term demand for it will remain, Lundeen said.

“People afford what they want,” said Lowell B. Catlett, dean for the College of Agriculture and Home Economics at New Mexico University, said earlier Tuesday.

As people’s economic futures grow, so will demand for meat, and especially beef, Catlett said.

About 180 people from the U.S. and nine countries including Russia attended the Livestock Congress, organizers said.

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