Current Consumer Perceptions about Beef Value
by John Lundeen, Senior Executive Director, Market Research, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff
The March 2014 wave of the Consumer Beef Index (CBI) found that the vast majority of consumers are still in the market for beef. Most of the tracking measures in the CBI remain very strong, including taste scores, and perceptions that beef is the protein that really sets a meat case apart. There are, however, demand challenges among a small percentage of consumers. With record high prices, one can only expect this result. Specifically, scores related to beef’s value are down, nutritional perceptions were a bit depressed in this most recent study, and we will need to continue monitoring the reaction of consumers to our production story.
The checkoff-funded CBI is a semi-annual online survey started in 2007, which is designed to identify and track key consumer perceptions of beef and to spotlight key consumption trends. In the 15th wave of the survey, which took place in March 2014, 1079 respondents completed it. 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.
We have heard many, many stories in the press. Consumers will balk at current beef prices. Demand will fall. While there is some bit of truth to this concept, much contradictory evidence also exists. First of all, let’s note that beef demand, as measured by the Beef Demand Index, is quite strong. Very simply, the supply of beef is moving off the market at very solid prices. That in itself is an indicator that underlying foundational demand for beef is strong.
Here are a few more of the high points regarding positive perceptions of beef.
Taste Scores Taste scores for beef remain at high levels. Taste is the most important attribute driving a consumers’ center of plate choice, both at home, and in restaurants. A large majority of consumers agree completely or somewhat that beef is great tasting, with no statistical change since 2011.
In the March 2014 wave of the Consumer Beef Index questions were added about the ability of the major proteins to differentiate a meat case. Beef is still the stalwart of the case in the consumer’s mind, beating both chicken and pork in its ability to communicate that a grocery retailer has both a “good selection” and “high quality” offerings. Clearly, beef is still the meat that makes a difference in the grocery channel versus other proteins.
In addition, the opinions of the millennial generation about beef remain strong, with millennials outpolling the other generations on several key measurements. Millennials are more likely to see beef as a value, as a meat they crave, as healthy, and overall, as a protein choice they can feel good about. Beef also holds onto its position as king of the grill, with 61 percent of consumers overall noting that retailers are more likely to attract their attention by promoting beef for grilling versus only 26 percent noting chicken as having that level of “grill magnetism”.
All of these measures indicate that beef is still much revered in the consumer’s heart.
Now we’ll address a few consumer concerns. At current lower supply levels and high beef prices, one would expect to see beef’s perceptions weaken just a bit, and the March 2014 data did indeed show a small degree of erosion in beef attitudes.
First, there has been deterioration in the percentage of consumers we consider to be Bucket 1, our staunchest beef lovers. To gain this label, the consumers must note that “the positives of beef strongly outweigh the negatives”. This measure peaked at 30 percent of consumers in July 2011, and a shift downward has been seen in the March 2014 measurement to 23 percent. The consumers leaving Bucket 1 have predominately shifted down to Bucket 2. Bucket 2 consumers note that “the positives of beef somewhat outweigh the negatives”. A look at the total percentage of consumers in Bucket 1 and 2 shows virtually no erosion in beef scores at this more general measurement of positive perceptions about beef.
Once again, millennials are more supportive of beef, with 78 percent noting that the positives of beef strongly or somewhat outweigh the negatives, versus only 70 percent of boomers.
Although still a minority opinion, the percentage of consumers that are saying that beef is “too expensive and definitely not worth it” edged upward in March 2014, with a statistically significant change in the number of consumers that noted this attitude in relation to the use of ground beef at home. Little change in attitudes about pricing of steaks and ground beef in foodservice were noted, but this sector has been slower in passing through the cost of beef to their consumers.
When asked whether beef and chicken are a “good value”, the percentage of consumers that agree completely or somewhat has stayed constant for chicken, with some weakness for beef. The reality is that when consumers are buying on a budget the price-gap between beef and chicken forces a pocketbook decision for the consumer in some cases.
Lastly, a look at the reasons given for eating less beef among the 19 percent of consumers noting that they are eating less beef is instructive (see chart below). Nutrition, as in the past, heads the list of rationales (roughly two-thirds of the 19 percent of consumers saying they are cutting back noted nutrition). A look at the other reasons given is instructive of the consumer concerns the checkoff will need to address, both today, and into the future as supply rebounds. Price is noted by nearly 50 percent of the 19 percent cutting back, and a similar percentage noted concerns about factory farming, or a desire to integrate more plant based proteins into the diet.
In summary, consumers have been surprisingly resilient to the record prices they have encountered at the grocery store. There has however been a small impact – though not a wholesale defection from beef, as some may suggest. A small subgroup of consumers does indeed have a troika of concerns including price, beef nutrition and production-based perceptions that are moderating their attitudes about beef overall.
Tags: Beef Issues Quarterly, Research Findings, Summer 2014
June 15, 2014