My View From The Country

My Wife’s Absence Exposes Beef’s Convenience Shortcomings

I’m one of those guys who will willingly pay $4 for 50¢ worth of lettuce as long as it is chopped up and bagged for me.

My wife left this week for a three-week trip. I could almost envision the wheels spinning in my three teenagers’ heads as they contemplated three weeks of frozen pizza and cereal. And they were almost right, in that my lack of cooking skills dictated that we head directly to the frozen foods section.

If I can put it in the oven or in the stove, that’s alright with me. I’m not proud of that personal shortcoming, but I don’t do extensive meal preparation – I’m just not wired for it. I’m one of those guys who will willingly pay $4 for 50¢ worth of lettuce as long as it is chopped up and bagged for me. Convenience is more than my primary concern; it’s my only concern.

So we headed to Walmart where I directed the kids to the frozen-foods section. Their mission was to find fare that would feed four people after the reading of simple instructions and just two minutes in the microwave or 35 minutes in the oven.

There turned out to be a whole lot of options available, and my kids returned with a full shopping cart of frozen-food bounty. As I inspected it, however, I grew a little angry. There were chicken products everywhere; even the frozen enchiladas I’d found in the food court as I waited for the kids to shop had chicken in them (it may sound a bit ironic, but that just doesn’t seem American to me!)

My beef-loving kids showed me the Philly cheesesteaks they had selected under the rationale that most of the other beef products were subpar. Well, I proceeded to remove about 25% of their selections and replaced it with more appropriate beef products, but these weren’t nearly as plentiful as products from the competition.

Since then, we’ve been conducting our own little research project, and the results are highly discouraging. Our conclusion thus far is that the cheaper chicken allows it to be surrounded with more flavorful products. Plus, on average, the chicken entrees microwave better than beef.

Okay, the Philly cheesesteaks were a real highlight, but with their cost and serving size, buying them wasn’t much cheaper than taking the kids to a fast-food restaurant. My kids will testify that I’m a terrible cook, and I readily admit that I’m not typical. But from my Walmart shopping experience, I can definitely tell you that the beef industry is getting clobbered in the frozen-foods section.


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Discuss this Blog Entry 14

W.E. (not verified)
on Oct 25, 2013

Sorry Troy, I have no sympathy for your craving for convenience. Convenience means dependence. Why don't you and your children take this wonderful opportunity to surprise the woman of your house and learn to cook? No man who considers himself an independent American should be so helpless or uninformed that he would depend on a store that advertises "Always the low price--Always" to provide high quality beef products in the convenience section. And shame on you if you depend on your wife to feed you all the time. Good food isn't easy or cheap, despite the false propaganda to the contrary. High quality nutrition has always required effort. By the way, why don't you have beef from your own ranch in your home freezer? You can have ground beef patties custom made from your own beef, brown them in a skillet for a few minutes with some onion and garlic, break them up, add a jar of spaghetti sauce, cook some pasta in boiling water for seven minutes and make a tasty meal your kids will love for far less money and no more time than those frozen Philly Cheese Steaks. Thaw a good beef roast overnight, slow-cook it for a few hours unattended in a crock pot, and you will have one of the best and most satisfying convenience foods ever. If you ever want to get serious about good food, you can look online to find many helpful hints from a generation of quality-conscious young people who consider themselves food e-Vangelists. If you want some reassuringly good beef suggestions, look up the paleo-diet, favored by runners and other fitness converts. If you will humble yourself enough to learn to cook, you will be offering your children one of the best examples they will ever get, and they will always remember and appreciate that gift.

Doug (not verified)
on Oct 25, 2013

I would humbly suggest you are missing the point of Troy’s article. Troy’s cooking skills or lack of desire to cook reflects our customers, the people who buy our beef. Shaming Troy into cooking will not solve the problem. The problem is how do we change our customers buying habits or perceptions?

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 27, 2013

You are so out of touch with the majority of today's consumers it hurts.

Doug (not verified)
on Oct 25, 2013

When I sell freezer beef I find my biggest problem is no one knows how to cook or has the time to cook. One of the problems is convenience food is thought to be something you buy.
Convenience food for supper
One chuck roast
While eating your breakfast
1.Sear both sides in a cast iron skillet
2. Throw in your slow cooker
3. add onions and garlic
If you are not going to be around the rest of the day throw in some potatoes and carrots. If you are home at lunch do it then.
Supper will be an amazing meal and only a few minutes more than it takes to run everyone one's "convenience foods through the microwave.
Plus you have leftovers for further convenience meals.
Plan B: under the philosophy of the parent trains the children the skills they need to survive, make them do it.
Now I know everything I said won’t work. The customer just wants something they can mindlessly place in the microwave and eat. However I think it would work with the right advertizing campaign. You build off the eat straight from the farm movement. You show families cooking together. You portray cooking as an act of love not an irritation. Don’t try to beat chicken at its own game, change the rules.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 25, 2013

Personally I think that it is a good thing not to be in the frozen fast food section. If you think we need to figure a way to make beef taste like a hot dish rag, fresh out of the microwave (although the picture on the box looks like a 5 star meal) we're in trouble. Beef has the widest range of product value in the meat industry. While burger is a very wholesome product it is a very good value while compared to the competing meats. Then the cuts escalate from a very moderate price range to the very prime cut steaks. To most consumers our Beef is a treat, not just something to fill the hole in your stomach. If the American consumers bought groceries like producers buy feed for thier stock (price based on feed value) we would hold a much larger share of the food market (true with most other staple foods too). My thought, If your'e a Mercedes why are you wishing to be a Yugo ?

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 27, 2013

Because not many can afford a Mercedes.

You are correct. Other than ground product and occasional cheap round steak or chuck roast, beef is moving to the status of a treat for most just as it was, except for farmers and ranchers who raised their own beef, when I was growing up in the 50s.

Terrie (not verified)
on Oct 25, 2013

Troy, I have to disagree with you on this one. For any frozen entree with chicken I can show you a comparable one with beef. Most frozen dinners are pasta with a little bit of meat mixed in anyway. Stouffers has family tins of roast beef or salisbury steaks available which are passable and Hormel has containers (in the butcher case not frozen) of beef tips or beef slices or barbeque that just require heating in the microwave. They last for weeks in your fridge and are really not bad. But as Doug says we may not want to promote frozen beef. We own a restaurant and we make a point that our beef is always fresh and never frozen and it is just as easy to prepare, actually easier, as anything frozen. I know great affordable beef can be convenient. What is easier than throwing beef patties or a steak on an outdoor grill. No mess, no clean up and our local store will even form the patties for you if you don't want to take the few minutes it takes to do that. If you are wanting to have the kids be completely responsible for their own meal, then the roast in the crock pot couldn't be easier. Put it in that morning, eat it that night. Your wife could start it that morning and all they would have to do is open the lid and help themselve to wonderful, flavorful beef, It doesn't get any better than that. So if entering the frozen food division is something you feel we are lacking in, I would disagree and anyway I tend to agree with Doug.....why would we want to compromise our product. If it is convenience you are wanting to promote that may be an area to look into because beef is the easiest fresh meat there is to prepare and we all know nothing tastes better. Maybe we just need to get the word out and remind people of this.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 25, 2013

If consumers want quick food convienence, we have to give it to them or lose market share, which I think has already happened to a significant extent. I don't think many have a slow cooker/crock pot. But including recipes using slow cookers on packages should not cost much and could get a few takers.

Bob Viering (not verified)
on Oct 25, 2013

I don't believe that Troy's experience is that of a non-cooking Dad but, a lot more like many of today's harried parents. I see his point as how much easier it is to buy chicken. It really points out the need for the beef industry to actually understand how consumers really behave and produce products that sell to them.

on Oct 25, 2013

come on, folks. Don't be so serious. This was a humorous piece. I loved it.

T Glennie (not verified)
on Oct 27, 2013

Troy is most certainly right about beef getting beat out by chicken. Just take a look at the school lunch programs. You have chicken nuggets, chicken strips, chicken on a bun, chicken legs, chicken stir fry, and many other chicken products. Most kids don't even use table knives at school, they just want convenient easy to eat food. With the recent Obama healthy meal plans kids are getting less beef and the beef industry has no great substitutes to match the chicken industry. If you call the Beef Check Off people they claim the school lunches are still using the same amount of beef. We need to get more convenient beef type products for the school lunch programs and the consumers that are short of time to prepare for meals.

on Oct 27, 2013

Most consumers don't have roast and steaks and hamburger pattys in the freezer because they don't stock up as we in ag do when we kill a beef. Quite often they pick up what's for dinner on the way home from work.

Maybe the promotion should be made to order
frozen beef packs of various cuts that the consumer can have "in stock" at home in the freezer at the ready.
Cost per pound would be less than frozen entrees and much more enjoyable at the dinner table.

We did the 50 and 80 pound frozen beef packs delivered to your door years ago and the concept works. The quality has to be the best beef suburban consumers have ever eaten and guaranteed.

None of these ideas we have all suggested here will work unless we teach the consumers the nutritional and meal enjoyment value of getting back in the
kitchen. It's a tough sell when everybody in the household who is able, works outside the home. It's a step back in time for much of suburbia to actually prepare and cook a meal and then set down to the table together for dinner.

John R. Dykers, Jr (not verified)
on Oct 31, 2013

I'm with you, Schedule f. We produced young, tender, lean, CharLean, bulls and heifers that were not up to our standards to be sold to our purebred Charolais customers for breeding stock. (we could usually decide this by growth performance by 10.5 to 11 months)
Add the George Foreman grill now sitting on top of our stove, and I haven't turned the oven on in years.
The butchering is key and improving with finding individual muscles that can cut out tender enough to grill, like the chuck tender. We completely boned out, put 2 steaks to a pack of ribeye, NY strip, filet mignon, and now would include chuck tender. The sirloin we cut into beef bites and packaged a pound pack, getting rid of the grissle. The reason is the marginal tenderness of sirloin, and one tough bite could ruin months of marketing. If one beef bite was a little chewy, the customer forgave us as the rest of the pack was not. These were mostly grilled as were all the steaks. The round was ground and packed in one pound packs. The chuck was ground and packed as !/3 pound patties, 4 to a pack, or 2 to a pack or 1 to a pack as many customers live alone! The scraps went into Pet Packs one or two pounds and many of our customers made there own burger patties out of Pet Packs!
Thaw, and the grill and 3 minutes was all you needed for a scrumptious, quick, healthy, real beef hot meal.
there, you have our secrets - use to our success.
By the way, we numbered every pack so it could be tracked back 6-7 generation. We butchered each carcass individually and used their herd number! And I ate one ribeye out of each to be sure the steaks could be marketed as CharLean. (hard job but somebody had to do it!)
This fits the modern customer market. Yes, we occassionaly had a request for a roast and had none. Our packs looked good and we were careful not to allow them to become frosty. We could always eat any that were marginal. Only had one that the ribeye test kept us from selling them and the strips for grilling - the filet was still ok and all the ground, but we would not sell a marginal steak. \
Still working on our patented tenderness tester that will work on the inspection line at big processing plants as an addition to the grade inspection based on marbling.
This will revolutionize how we market steaks for grilling.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 31, 2013

I work in an office and raise our own beef. However, everyone else (mostly women) I work with buys frozen food for lunch and it is mostly chicken. If we don't get a bigger share of this market, lower priced beef cuts will not have a market. We can't keep decieving ourselves about what the consumer wants. They want convenience and the perception that it is low cal and healthy. Eat Beef.

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What's My View From The Country?

As a fulltime rancher, opinion contributor Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.


Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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