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Range Beef Cow Symposium
December 9 - 11, 2003
Scotts Bluff County Fairgrounds Events Center, Mitchell, NE

New beef products and how they have helped increase demand for beef
Sallie Atkins, Nebraska Beef Council, Kearney, NE

Sallie Atkins, executive director of the Nebraska Beef Council, said, "The No. 1 reason people eat beef is because of enjoyment." She shared with attendees of the Range Beef Cow Symposium ways that the Beef Council is researching and developing new products to better use underutilized beef cuts to enhance the convenience, nutrition and enjoyment of beef.
As industry programs have begun to focus on new product development and on consumers' changing needs, demand for beef has increased 10%, Sallie Atkins, executive director of the Nebraska Beef Council, told attendees of the 18th Range Beef Cow Symposium, Dec. 9-11. In the first presentation of the three-day event, Atkins told the crowd gathered in the Scotts Bluff County Fairgrounds Events Center, Mitchell, Neb., how the industry has moved from carcass merchandising and fabrication to boxed beef, closely trimmed muscle cuts, case-ready beef and the introduction of thousands of new products — while improving market prices for underutilized cuts.

"You may say to yourself, ‘Why do we need new products? We’ve done pretty well for many, many decades," Atkins said. "We needed to do a better job with our competition; they were really out in front." So beef industry experts identified a huge challenge — increasing the value of the chuck and the round, creating a convenient, flavorful product. To do so, Atkins said, the industry stepped up its research and development efforts to jump-start new product development and improve market prices for undervalued beef.

The University of Nebraska (NU) and the University of Florida (UF) partnered in 1999 to conduct "The Muscle Profiling Study," a checkoff-funded project created in the hopes of developing new meat cuts that remained tender and desirable to consumers. Throughout the project, researchers analyzed more than 5,600 muscles from the chuck and round for palatability and functionality, Atkins said, as well as some individual muscles known for their flavor and quality — cuts that fall within the top 10 tender beef cuts. Cuts like the flat-iron steak, tender medallions and ranch-cut steak have led the demand for new products on supermarket shelves and in restaurants nationwide.

"In just less than four short years, we really have made amazing strides in how we fabricate that carcass to add value," she said. And, Atkins said, the timing couldn’t be better.

"I think all of us know, with the current market situation, and with the whining that we’re hearing from foodservice and retail about high beef prices, that the timing has been excellent to incorporate these underutilized cuts onto menus and into retail."

Atkins said beef value cuts take a commanding lead over other convenience products in retail meat departments. Advancements in packaging and consumers' acceptance of ready-to-eat beef products have made "heat-n-serve" a common household term.

"When we started just a few years ago, we just had a handful of heat-and-serve items, and now, there are over 1,200 of these new products in the marketplace," she said.

Although research has significantly increased the value of cuts from the chuck and round, Atkins said the creation of new cuts has only just begun. She said there is room for growth in breakfast and snack-food categories — with the beef industry comprising only 4% of breakfast and snack-food products.

Other trends in the beef industry, including the development of branded products, such as Certified Angus Beef® (CAB®) and partnerships with national food chains, have helped increase beef consumption. By using checkoff dollars to partner with companies like Taco Bell, Arby’s, Quizno’s Bistro and Domino’s, the beef industry has seen amazing increases in sales, Atkins said. She said many items that were once intended as trial promotions have become permanent menu items.

"The No. 1 reason why people eat beef is because they enjoy it," she said. "It’s the one way we can differentiate ourselves out there in the marketplace."

But while consumers enjoy beef, Atkins said, the producers must remember their responsibilities. "We have a responsibility as producers, and that responsibility is to continue to focus on satisfying consumers," she said. "Consumer confidence is paramount if we’re going to continue to increase demand. We must keep them choosing beef; we must be able to ensure food safety, and new products are helping us establish that."

— by Crystal Albers

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