What will 2007 hold for the beef industry at the retail level? No one can say for certain, but in marketing efforts, health will continue to be a big driver in positioning foods among consumers, experts say. Here are two trends that are already emerging:

Healthier Fare For Kids. Among the future generation of kid consumers, expect healthier food options from corporate giants like McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Walt Disney. Many fast-food restaurants are already offering oranges or apple slices in their kid’s meals instead of fries. And recently Disney Co. said it plans to lend its characters’ names mainly to healthful foods.

As an example, in its Disney theme parks, it will replace fries and sodas in kid’s meals with vegetables and juice. In its licensing deals, by 2009 Disney will limit portion sizes and in most cases refuse to tie its brand to foods that get more than 30% of their calories from fat, more than 10% from saturated fat or more than 10% from added sugar.

The Disney decision follows reports by scientific panels that blasted the use of cartoon characters to sell children food with low nutritional value.

A Beefed Up Image. In an effort to maintain and grow beef market share – especially in competing with chicken – look for beef to tout its healthy image as well. The new campaign is based on recent research that shows consumers prefer beef, but say they are eating more chicken due to health concerns.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association reports that in a survey of more than 4,000 consumers nationwide, 39% said they either strongly prefer or somewhat prefer beef, while 27% said the same of chicken. However, more than 40% said they are eating more chicken due to health concerns.

To put a stop to this "chicken creep," NCBA and the beef checkoff are launching a beef enhancement program that takes beef's core values with consumers to the next level. The research confirmed that the pleasure of eating beef is the key driver in beef consumption, but it showed another consumer driver is gaining importance — consumers’ desire to fuel their body with food that gives them energy and is a good source of protein.

Thus, a portion of 2007 checkoff-funds will be aimed at a campaign helping consumers turn their love of beef into something they feel good about eating, too. In addition to advertising, this image-building effort will involve retail, foodservice, public relations and new product development in showing consumers how beef can be a vital part of their lives – while ultimately building consumer demand for beef.