Beef in the reality of the average kitchen
by John Lundeen, Executive Director, Market Research – NCBA
Consumer research reveals that people have a desire to include beef in their everyday meal choices, especially for grilling purposes. However, purchasing practices that include freezing beef products coupled with meat industry and government recommendations to thaw meat products overnight in the refrigerator make including beef in a meal challenging because many consumers decide the same day about what to have for dinner that evening. Beef industry research reveals some of these trends and opportunities to adjust product offerings to make them more appealing to today’s consumer.
The recipe for expanding use of beef in America’s household is pretty straightforward if you examine recent consumer research. The industry needs to provide a high-quality and nutritious product that will make every consumer in a household happy. Whatever the industry can do to make the grilling occasion more exciting will pay dividends as consumers love their grills, and the grilling season just keeps getting longer. Consumers want simple tips on how to make a steak special, and simple suggestions for rubs, marinades and spices. Based on consumer market research, the industry also needs to focus on how to provide products that are ready for cooking in a world that is increasingly about same-day decisions on what to put on the table.
The paradox of freezing beef
According to previously conducted research, about 60 percent of consumers freeze some portion of the meat they buy at grocery stores for use over time. That information makes it safe to assume that a peek inside America’s freezers will reveal a lot of frozen ground beef and steak. Next, consider that it is a standard industry and government recommendation to “defrost beef overnight in your refrigerator.” Finally, add into this discussion the fact that 75 percent of decisions about what to serve for dinner are now made the day of the meal. That scenario means that consumers may find themselves frustrated when they want a steak tonight, but realize too late that they should have defrosted it the day before.
Recently conducted consumer research funded by the beef checkoff revealed this potential hurdle to beef consumption. After conducting initial focus groups, a quantitative study was conducted in December 2010 among 800 consumers about convenience hurdles to using more beef. The study asked about several factors including leaky packaging, difficulty in estimating doneness, meal preparation mess and 34 other potential limiting factors for beef consumption. The No. 1 hurdle, however, was the fact that it is hard to defrost beef on the same day as it is consumed.
Accessorizing a steak
There are probably as many ways to cook a steak as there are beef lovers in America. Three years ago, a special in-home consumer research study probed into consumer grilling practices, and found that beef is truly “king” of the grill. During that research project, consumers told focus group facilitators how they were known in their apartment building, or on their block, for the unique seasoning blend they used on a steak. Beef also served as a magnet for family enjoyment with members of the household working together to get the meal prepared. Oftentimes it was mentioned how the kids were also present in the backyard during grilling and it was an opportunity to spend some special time together while preparing the meal
Last December, an online checkoff-funded study was conducted to provide information about consumer behaviors and desires to support for the “I Heart Beef” campaign. A series of questions dove into areas of interest for techniques on how to enhance a beef meal. More than 70 percent of the 1,200 consumers in the study expressed interest in knowing more about simple ways to jazz up a steak, including spices, sauces, marinades and rubs to add to their beef preparation repertoire. (Figure 2)
Desire to know more about beef
In this same study, researchers also asked the respondents to talk about their current “knowledge relationship” with beef. The respondents in the study were selected to participate if they used beef at least twice monthly. This demographic represents a very broad sample of beef consumers, from light users to those using beef three or more times per week. Even with this broad mix of beef users only 22 percent considered themselves as being experienced with beef, and well versed from cut selection to preparation. Sixty-three percent noted familiarity with beef, but also said “you can always learn more.” Only 5 percent expressed low interest in learning more about beef.
And finally, a note is warranted about that wonderful backyard extension of the kitchen – the grill. In the “I Heart Beef” study, researchers also asked consumers what they consider to be the beginning and end of the grilling season. For 54 percent of consumers, the grilling season starts before April. And for a similar 56 percent of consumers, the season doesn’t end until October or later. Twenty-one percent of consumers grill year-round
Based on this consumer market research, the beef industry must continue to evolve its products, recipe recommendations and consumer communications to consider how consumers use and prepare beef. Time constraints and the need for simple meal solutions shape many consumers’ meal choices, however they don’t want to give up flavor and quality. Beef can be part of that solution especially as grilling becomes a more prevalent cooking method year-round.
American Meat Institute/Food Marketing Institute. 2009. The Power of Meat.
NPD's Mealscapes database, data period May 2003 – April 2004