Fact: Per-capita beef in the U.S. was 94.4 lbs. in 1976. Last year, it was 56.5 lbs. — a 40% decline in 38 years.

Fact: Beef’s market share among competing proteins was 46.4% in 1976. Last year, it was 25.9% — a decline of 44%.

“If the beef industry continues to ignore the above trends [and other facts], and fails to get serious about making beef more cost-competitive with other proteins, especially chicken, then you can only conclude that the beef industry will end up where lamb and lobster are today,” says Bill Helming, of Bill Helming Consulting Services in Olathe, KS.

Helming provided the metrics above (basis retail weight from USDA data).

First off, there is a distinct difference between beef consumption and beef demand. At its simplest, demand measures how much of a product consumers will purchase at a given price.

Per capita consumption is a reflection of supply. In the case of beef — a perishable product — everything produced is consumed at some price. Ostensibly, consumption increases with more supply, and vice versa.

“Consumption isn’t demand, but they’re intricately related,” explains Don Close, a Rabobank cattle economist.

Per capita beef consumption has declined about 40 lbs. over the last four decades. Beef production — beef supplies available for consumption — has remained amazingly static during that time.

While the U.S. population has increased by 45% over the past four decades, U.S. consumers don’t want to eat any more beef than was available to a population of 98 million fewer people.

“Average per capita beef consumption has decreased an average of 1 lb. annually since 1976. During the same period, per capita chicken consumption increased 1.1 lbs.,” Helming explains. “Beef was replaced by chicken almost pound for pound.”

Keep in mind total per capita meat and fish consumption in the U.S. increased 6.7% from 1976 to 2013, from 203.8 lbs. to 217.6 lbs.