December 26, 2011


US beef consumption on steady decline


US per capita beef consumption in 2011 is estimated at 57.4 lbs, down 13% from 10 years ago and down about 25% from 1980, as high unemployment in the country had cash-strapped Americans avoiding restaurant meals and switching to lower-cost non-meat dishes at home, the USDA said.


In 2012, Americans will eat 54.1 lbs of beef on average, it added.


The beef industry is coping with these changes by developing new cuts that will satisfy appetites for steaks, but at a lower cost. Also, it has benefited from a huge recovery in beef exports particularly to Asia and Russia, where consumers are upgrading their diets and concerns about mad cow disease fade.


Beef companies, like Tyson Foods, JBS, Cargill, and National Beef, are carving up beef carcasses in interesting new ways. Carcass portions that were once meant for ground meat or roasts, such as rounds and chucks, are now sliced into cheaper cuts of steaks for the American palate.


These new less expensive steak cuts became popular during the recession and still are, said Chris Calkins, professor of animal science at the University of Nebraska.


At the height of the recession the beef industry saw a decline in high-end steak consumption, such as tenderloin and ribeye, in fine dining restaurants.


This created an opportunity for beef companies and retailers to promote those higher-end cuts in supermarkets but in smaller portions, Trevor Amen, director of market intelligence at the National Cattleman's Beef Association.


As tough economic times and higher-priced food bite into Americans' grocery budgets consumers look for ways to cut costs. Meat industry experts say Americans still crave the steak-eating experience but want it with a cheaper price.


An even more popular cost-cutting tactic has been to purchase ground beef, often times in bulk, instead of steak, creating what has become known as the Hamburger Economy, said Erin Borror, an economist with the US Meat Export Federation.


Ground beef sales in dollar terms rose 7% in the last 52 weeks while steak cuts increased 1.3%, according to National Cattleman's Beef Association data.


In an effort to improve domestic beef sales meat giant Tyson Foods Inc ran a 2011 summer promotion featuring its premium ground beef for burgers during the height of grilling season that was picked up by 1,600 retail stores, said Gary Mickelson, a Tyson spokesman.

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