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BEEF. What does this mean to you?

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Posted Dec. 1, 1997

BEEF. What does this mean to you? Maybe a more appropriate question is what does it mean to the consumer? I am going to take the name of this publication "NF Ag News & Views" literally and express a viewpoint.

If we reflect back fifty or more years, what did the terms beef, pork, and poultry mean to most of the consuming public? Since I wasn't born, it's hard for me to know; however, I think beef was thought of as the premium red meat and consisted of roasts, steaks, and hamburger with occasional barbecue and pots of chili thrown in. Pork was thought of as red meat made up of bacon, ham, chops, roasts, and sausage. An important bi-product of pork was lard. Poultry was thought of as fried chicken or roast chicken and their source was primarily whole fresh chickens. Of course, turkey was the "bill of fare" for Thanksgiving and sometimes at Christmas.

Now, let's think on today's terms. What is beef? Well, it's steak or ground beef or hum...? Pork is still bacon, ham, and sausage, but it's also leaner and being accepted as "the other white meat" not as an alternative to beef. Poultry has become many things from chicken tenders to buffalo wings and like it or not, is a preferred meat among many young adults and children.

What has happened and who's to blame? I think what's happened is that cattlemen have clung to the past, failed to be progressive and adapt to the present, and failed to change! We still tell ourselves, "Beef is #1, it's the preferred meat." We are still trying to produce a commodity in about the same way as it was produced 50 to 100 years ago. The biggest innovations in the beef industry during my lifetime have been boxed beef and big packing plants.

We are not making changes and we are to blame for losing market share. Recently, there has been a "big push" to solve our declining market share by making beef higher quality, whatever that means, and a more consistent predictable product. We have seen emphasis placed on choice or better grades. Will this solve our problems? What about choice beef that is tough or over fat? How long has it been since you saw a "Choice" chicken or a #1 hog? The pork and poultry industries have abandoned the grading concept and are working on ways to improve and merchandise their products. Much of this has been done under private labels. Is our grading system helping us become a smaller "niche market" rather than a staple? Is it an asset or liability?

Do we need to take heed? Are we clinging to the past and ignoring the future? Do we need to spend money advertising beef to people who already eat it? How does the cow-calf producer know what to produce what market signal are they getting? Think about these questions and then answer this: Are we as an industry spending enough money on product development and research to insure that beef will be a mainstay in the American diet in the 21st century? What are you going to do about it?