Beef Issues Quarterly Archive

Beef Demand: Spring 2015 Optimism in the Consumer Beef Index

by John Lundeen, Senior Executive Director, Market Research, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff


For several years of tracking, consumers have noted a drop in the average number of times beef is eaten in a week. The March 2015 Consumer Beef Index noted an uptick in this measure. Although reductions in domestic supply are keeping a ceiling on the amount of beef consumed, any indication by consumers that beef hits their plate more often is a very positive change. On another measure, comparing the percentage of consumers who plan to eat more beef versus less beef, the “more” beef consumers won out -- 18 percent to 15 percent. It all speaks to optimism in beef consumption moving forward. 


The checkoff-funded Consumer Beef Index (CBI) is a semi-annual online survey begun in 2007 that is designed to identify and track key consumer perceptions of beef and to spotlight key consumption trends. One thousand and fifty respondents completed the March 2015 online study. The sample is national in scope and is tested for balance with national demographic data, including gender, ethnicity, region of the country and age (ages 13 to 65 were included in the sample). A very small minority of consumers with absolutely no food decision making authority, either at-home or in restaurants, are excluded. 


This write-up will document several positive shifts in perceptions about beef and reported usage of beef -- percentage of consumers eating beef weekly, average number of meals per week, percent of consumers eating beef 3+ times a week. It will also note how strong some of these measurements are for millennials and millennial parents, key target audiences moving forward.

Reported use of beef, and frequency of consumption data, look very promising. Ninety-one percent of consumers note eating beef monthly. Thirty-five percent note eating beef three or more times a week (Figure 1), a percentage of heavy users not seen since 2012. Thirty-six percent of millennials and 38 percent of millennial parents are in the three or more beef meals per week camp. Although not statistically significant yet, the average number of beef meals reported eaten per week ticked up slightly. This is notable after several years of supply driven declines in the total beef available to consumers, and the margin pressures encountered by retailers and restaurant operators in recent years. 

A rule of thumb for beef meals eaten is 1/3, 1/3, 1/3, with burgers, ground beef as an ingredient and whole muscle cuts making up the categories. When combined, the importance of ground beef to beef usage is very clear. Note that the data noted concerns meals, not pounds consumed. The exact percentages are as shown in the pie chart (Figure 2):


So, what appears to bring some consumers back to beef, and make others shy away from beef? Among the 18 percent saying they plan to eat more beef, a love for the taste of beef is the number one reason given (Figure 3). 


Nutritional reasons are the four top responses given by the 15 percent who say they plan to eat less beef (Figure 4). Note that beef pricing is the fifth most common reason given by just over half of the 15 percent who say they are eating less. Concern about “factory farming” is the eighth most common reason for planning to eat less beef.


 Overall, attitudes about beef are strongly similar across generations (Figure 5). Across all groups tracked, those noting the positives of beef strongly or somewhat outweigh the negatives hovers between 75 percent and 82 percent. Note also that the overall percentage of consumers with a positive attitude about beef is at a four-year high.

Twenty-six percent of consumers noted a “specific problem or concern” with beef they had heard or read about recently. Seventy-four percent consequently had not heard or read about a specific problem or concern recently, the highest percent noted since the Consumer Beef Index was initiated in 2007 (Figure 6). The industry must stay vigilant, however, in keeping beef out of the news. Millennial parents were more likely to have heard about an issue with beef, with 41 percent noting some negative type of news about using beef in the their homes.  

Millennial parents are honestly interested in knowing more about beef selection and preparation, and this generation consistently outscored the average in their desire for more knowledge about beef (Figure 7).   



Despite reduced supply of beef and high market prices, the underlying interest in beef is solid. The percentage  of consumers noting that the positives of beef outweigh the negatives, number of weekly meals made with beef, the ongoing power of beef taste, less awareness of negative beef news, and the desire among millennial parents to know more about beef selection and preparation puts the industry on solid ground moving forward.  

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Tags: Beef Issues Quarterly, Research Findings, Winter 2015

December 21, 2015