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Beef flavor has been defined as an important component of beef demand. The first step in understanding beef flavor was the development of the Beef Flavor Lexicon, that identified major and minor beef flavor components. Secondly, researchers examined compounds that were responsible for each attribute in the lexicon and what flavor attributes drive consumer liking of beef. In the past two years, research studies have used light and moderate-to-heavy beef eaters to evaluate beef flavor. In recent studies, differences in beef flavor were presented to consumers induced by using different beef cuts, different cooking methods and different done degrees of doneness. This model effectively created flavor differences in beef samples. Results have shown that consumers, whether light or moderate-to-heavy beef consumers, predominantly like beef cooked to medium rare on a high temperature grill. Consumers eat beef because they like the beefy flavor, its versatility in recipes and because it is an excellent source of protein. As a component of the previous research one of the objectives was to look at consumer clusters to understand how different consumers responded to differences in beef flavor. Within a study, consumers did not cluster into different groups, but responded similarly to beef flavor differences.
Previous data sets were analyzed to address how demographics affect beef flavor liking. Research from checkoff- funded market research has shown that millennials, individuals ages 18 to 36, do not consume beef in the same proportion as non-millennials. Non-millennials are people 36 or older and include the consumer classifications of Generation X and Baby Boomers. The question is, “Why do Millennials not eat as much beef; why do they eat more chicken; and what flavor attributes drive their liking of protein?” The millennial generation has strong purchasing power. They are the beef industry’s next powerful consumer group, but to date, they can struggle to cook, they eat more chicken than other protein sources, and they are very connected to digital media. Previous research included the Millennial generation, but consumers were either light or moderate-to-heavy beef eaters. Researchers needed to address Millennials as a consumer group and examine what factors drive consumer perception for beef, and how to increase their willingness to eat more beef. The question asked in this research is, do Millennials have different flavor preferences than Non-Millennials?
The objectives of this study were to utilize the data from previous studies evaluating light versus moderate to heavy beef eaters to: 1) examine demographic factors that drive overall consumer liking; and 2) examine Millennial versus Non-Millennial differences in overall consumer liking. These results will allow researchers to tie consumer positive and negative flavor attributes within consumer segments with the trained panel beef lexicon and chemicals that contribute to beef flavor, and provide a road map for the beef industry to maximize customer satisfaction and to increase beef demand, especially with Millennials.
Data were obtained from two previous studies that were funded by the Beef Checkoff. In the first study conducted in 2012, Beef Flavor Attributes and Consumer Perception, heavy beef eaters or consumers who ate beef three or more times per week were selected in Houston TX, Philadelphia PA, Portland OR and Olathe KS. In the second study conducted in 2013-2014, light beef eaters, consumer who ate beef one or two times per week, were selected from University Park PA, Portland OR and Olathe KS. Data were combined so that only consumers from Pennsylvania, Portland OR and Olathe KS were used. Additionally, consumers within both studies were segmented by age so that millennial consumers were between the ages of 18 and 35 and non-millennial consumers were 36 years of age or older. In both studies, consumers evaluated eight beef samples from up to 16 treatments that were used to provide variation in beef flavor. Treatments were: Select beef Bottom Round Roasts cooked in a slow cooker to 137°F; Select beef Bottom Round Roasts cooked in a slow cooker to 176°F; Choice beef Bottom Round Roasts cooked in a slow cooker to 137°F; Choice beef Bottom Round Roasts cooked in a slow cooker to 176°F; high-pH (>6.0) Top Loin Steak cooked on a George Foreman® grill to 137°F; high-pH (>6.0) Top Loin Steak cooked on a George Foreman® grill to 176°F; high-pH (>6.0) Top Loin Steak cooked on a flat grill to 137°F; high-pH (>6.0) Top Loin Steak cooked on a flat grill to 176°F; Top Sirloin Steak cooked on a George Foreman® grill to 137°F; Top Sirloin Steak cooked on a George Foreman® grill to 176°F; Top Sirloin Steak cooked on a flat grill to 137°F; Top Sirloin Steak cooked on a flat grill to 176°F; Choice Top Loin Steak cooked on a George Foreman® grill to 137°F; Choice Top Loin Steak cooked on a George Foreman® grill to 176°F; Choice Top Loin Steak cooked on a flat grill to 137°F; and Choice Top Loin Steak cooked on a flat grill to 176°F. These 16 treatments were common to both studies. Consumers (n=80 per city/study) were asked to evaluate beef samples for overall liking, overall flavor liking and grill flavor liking using nine-point hedonic scales. Trained descriptive flavor attributes from the Beef Lexicon were evaluated for each treatment. Volatile aromatic flavor compounds were identified using the AromaTrax system. The trained panel descriptive flavor attributes, volatile aromatic compounds, and consumer sensory like/dislike attributes were be analyzed to understand relationships between these classes of attributes.
Demographics, other than age and beef usage, did not affect consumer liking of beef across the two studies. Overall drivers of like did not differ across consumer groups or by city. Consumers did not like USDA Choice and Select Bottom Round Roasts cooked in a crockpot, however, Select Bottom Round Roasts, Top Sirloin Steaks and high-pH Top Loin Steaks cooked on the George Foreman® grill to either 137 or 176°F were more closely associated with liver-like and cardboardy beef flavor attributes. Top Sirloin Steaks grilled to 137 and Top Loin Steaks grilled to either 137 or 176°F were closely associated with furaldehyde volatile aromatic compounds. Cardboardy beef flavor was closely associated with aldehyde and ketone volatile aromatic compounds. When data were averaged across consumer groups, flavor liking and overall liking were closely related, and grill flavor liking also was closely related to overall liking but not as strongly as flavor liking. Fat-like was the beef flavor attribute most closely related to overall liking and liver-like and cardboard flavor attributes were disliked by consumes.
Ketones, benzaldehydes and aldehydes were the volatile aromatic chemical compounds most closely related to the negative beef flavor attributes of liver-like and cardboardy. Furaldehyde was most closely related to overall liking. The beef flavor attributes of brown/roasted, beef identity, overall sweet, sweet and umami were closely related and most closely associated with grill flavor liking. Salty basic taste and pyazines were most closely related to the aforementioned beef flavor attributes and somewhat to grill flavor liking. Metallic and bloody/serumy beef flavor attributes, sour and bitter basic tastes and methanethiol volatile aromatic compound were closely related and somewhat related to overall liking.
Top Loin Steaks cooked on a grill to 137°F were most closely associated with consumer overall liking indicating that consumers liked beef from this treatment more than beef from other treatments. Consumers tended to not like steaks cooked on the George Foreman® grill as much as steaks cooked on a flat grill. High-pH Top Loin Steaks were not liked as much as normal-pH Top Loin Steaks. Choice and Select beef Bottom Round Roasts cooked in a crockpot to 176° F were least liked by consumers and were most closely related to liver-like and cardboardy beef flavor descriptive attributes, and ketone and aldehyde volatile chemical compounds. Top Sirloin Steaks grilled to 137°F were most closely associated with sour basic taste, metallic and serumy/bloody flavor attributes, and methanethiol. Choice Top Loin Steaks cooked on a flat grill to 176°F where most closely clustered with brown/roasted, beef identity, umami, sweet and overall sweet.
Relationships across consumer groups for heavy and light beef eaters and millennial and non-millennial consumers were examined. While some relationships shifted slightly, millennial and non-millennial light and heavy beef eaters had similar relationships between consumer liking, beef flavor attributes, volatile aromatic compounds and consumer liking previously discussed.
These results show that regardless of age of consumers (millennial versus non-millennials) and beef usage (light versus heavy beef eaters), consumers like beef that is higher in fat-like and furaldehyde, pyrazines, salty basic tastes and lower in liver-like and cardboard beef flavors, and ketones, benzaldehyde and aldehydes. Additionally, secondary drivers of consumer overall liking were slightly higher levels of metallic and serumy/bloody flavor and slightly lower levels of beef identity, sweet and umami, even though presence of these flavors are positively related to consumer liking.
Word clouds were generated from qualitative data using consumer data from two open-ended questions about positive and negative attributes of beef samples evaluated (Figure1). Heavy and light beef eaters said that flavor was the most positive attribute, but tender, beefy, juicy, good and grilled were also frequently used to indicate positive at- tributes of beef samples. Consumers also indicated negative flavor attributes in beef. Bland flavor was the most fre- quently written response to negative flavor attributes in beef with taste, grilled, dry and beef used second in frequency. These results indicate that flavor is one of the most important drivers for a positive eating experience for consumers and when flavor is lacking or beef has a bland flavor, consumers respond negatively. However, when beef is tough or dry, consumers identify these attributes as negative and they identify juicy and tender as positive attributes in beef.
Figure 1. Word cloud from Wordle.net of consumer negative comments from (a) heavy beef eaters and (b) light beef eaters