BEEF Editors' Blog

Top 5 Qualities Consumers Want In Beef


Kansas State University research finds that the "social values"  of food choices are less important to shoppers of livestock food products than a safe and quality eating experience

Consumer preferences should concern everyone involved in the food business, and that includes beef producers, processors and marketers. But how does one separate the wheat from the chaff regarding consumer preferences in a marketplace that is so noisy?

For instance, when chains like Chipotle and Chick-fil-A proclaim they’re moving toward antibiotic-free menus, how significant is that? And how integral are the “social values” – non-GMO, non-hormone, environmentally friendly, origin, traceability, etc. – in consumers’ food purchasing behavior?

Kansas State University (KSU) recently released the results of a study that focused on this latter question in regard to consumer decisions in purchases of ground beef, beef steak, chicken breast and milk. The KSU researchers wanted to find out how consumers rank the relative importance of various characteristics offered when it comes to purchasing animal products. The results pointed to the basic quality attributes of freshness, safety and taste, with the so-called social values lagging far behind.

Previous work at Oklahoma State University (OSU) had shed light on how consumers ranked product traits in general. KSU’s Ted Schroeder, an Extension livestock economist, and other faculty and graduate students in KSU's Department of Agricultural Economics wanted to evaluate whether these findings varied when applied to specific animal food products, and how they factored into a consumer’s decision to purchase animal-based products.

So they conducted an online survey of 1,950 U.S. respondents using best-worst scaling that applied the concept of food values to four specific meat and dairy products – ground beef, beef steak, chicken breast and milk. These specific livestock products were chosen because they provide a commonality that allows assessing differences in values for similar food sources; they represent a variety of animal products, and include a sampling of relatively high and low-cost products from the same species (ground beef and beef steak, for instance); and they are relatively common in the average American’s diet.

What the researchers found was that, similar to the OSU study, the overriding features in shopper selections of animal products remain strongly in the categories of taste, safety, freshness and price. Characteristics like hormone and antibiotic-free, animal welfare, traceability, etc., only drew single-digit responses.


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Safety was ranked either first or second in terms of importance for milk, ground beef, beef steak and chicken breast. Freshness was the other top value for livestock products. In contrast, the values of environmental impact, animal welfare, origin and convenience were less important for the livestock products, the researchers concluded.

"This study provides a summary of the importance of food values that can be applied to the animal food products presented. The dominant values of safety and freshness are apparent. In contrast, the values of environmental impact, animal welfare, origin/traceability and convenience are less important," Schroeder says.

This doesn’t mean these latter attributes aren’t important, Schroeder adds, or that making food products more appealing relative to these values is inadvisable. Rather, it's important to acknowledge that these attributes aren't of primary importance to most consumers. The bottom line is that consumers regard a safe, high-quality eating experience as paramount. That would appear to be an important finding for livestock producers and animal protein marketers to bear in mind as they go about their business.

To see the research report, click here. To read the KSU article on the research, click here.


More resources for you:

Has The U.S. Become A Ground Beef Nation?

Ranching As A Family -- See The Multiple Generations On The Ranch

Know Which Cows Are Most At Risk To Predators

Best Tips For Selecting Replacement Heifers For The Beef Herd

Discuss this Blog Entry 10

on Feb 19, 2014

Well is anyone really surprised? Really? The only reason that most of the "social values" are notable at all is because they are so far out of the mainstream. They are at best a curiosity of a minority with the luxury of too much time on their hands. In the real world real people want real value for their money and their time. They have real issues of their own to worry about and cannot be bothered by the fantasy issues of all the chicken littles of the world.

James McGrann (not verified)
on Feb 19, 2014

It's important to consider that 60% of beef is consumed as ground beef.
May need to focus more there and less on the 18% of the carcass primal cuts.
Seedstock or CNB guys may not appreciate that reality.

W.E. (not verified)
on Feb 19, 2014

FHJIII, out here in the real world where even some old cattlemen like us now sell directly to consumers, we hear what people are really concerned with. They call us up and tell us what they want. They like being able to do that, to know who we are and how we raise our cattle. If asked what was most important to them, using the items on the list "antibiotic-free, non-GMO, non-hormone, environmentally friendly, origin, traceability," most of them would tell you "all of the above." Some would also tell you to be sure to include a few other things, like "grass-fed, no pesticides, no herbicides, no artificial nitrogen." We don't market to an elite clientele with "the luxury of too much time on their hands." Our customers are real cancer survivors, mothers of young children with severe allergies, fit young folks who run marathons. They include a man in his twenties suffering from severe rheumatoid arthritis, several chiropractors, a cardiologist, a physical therapist, a middle-aged woman cooking for her aging parents, a man who has lost 200 pounds and reversed his diabetes, another who claims that grassfed meat cured his ulcerative colitis--real people with real concerns. Try direct marketing, and you will hear what real consumers really want, directly from them. When you start serving the needs of individual people, you will realize that for each of them there is no "mainstream" and they certainly do not consider themselves to be the "chicken littles of the world." And yes, James, some of our customers just want good lean grassfed ground beef at a reasonable price. We sell seedstock and can certainly appreciate that reality. Healthy grassfed cull cows serve that market very well.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 19, 2014

I can see both sides of this argument, but I am without a doubt sure that GRASS FED BEEF does reverse and cure diseases. I had alot of digestive problems from the mouth to the anus and only grass fed and finished beef fixes the problems. It's not that I don't eat grain fed beef, but I cannot go without the grass fed beef for very long. Look up vitamin k2.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 19, 2014

W.E. Good for you, but you don't see all of the other livestock producers breaking thier arms slapping themselves on the back and telling the world what a sham "All Natural ", Grass Fed" and "Organic" really are. Go ahead and take thier money if they want to waste it, why not. BTW I have been in the cattle business for 52 years and have yet to find a beef animal that didn't grow up eating grass. Maybe I should start breaking my arms slapping my own back too.................................

on Feb 20, 2014

Good for you, apparently you have a following for what ever reason. Not everyone is willing to pay significantly more for things that constantly blow thier own horn just to make noise. If you want a good laugh just go to a Whole Foods Market and see what parts the fools from thier money. All Natural? Organic? Free Range? Cage Free? Grass Fed? Earth Friendly? Recycled? etc. etc.. etc..Brown eggs are better? or my favorite ORGANIC Seedless Watermelons. Personally after my 52 years in the cattle business I have never seen a beef animal that wasn't fed grass..Don't break your arm patting yourself on the back.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 19, 2014

W.E.- When you provide a repeatable validated medical study that actually proves your "claims" than we'll believe you. I sell direct too and hear the same things EXCEPT when it comes to actually paying the extra price for organic, non-GMO, etc. Just because very few will pay for it doesn't mean we should extrapolate it and believe all consumers will pay for it or even want it. Keep producing for your niche but it is just that a niche market.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 19, 2014

Of course " taste, safety, freshness and price" score high. Duh. Did someone actually spend money to find that out?

Give people a choice between safe & tasty natural beef and "safe" & tasty industrial beef and I believe you'll see an overwhelming preference for the natural product.

Nkpeter (not verified)
on Feb 19, 2014

Excellent article however as both a cattleman and a person who's day job takes me globally it seems some of the social items like hormone free, no pesticides, minimum anti biopics are part or a subset of safety or quality

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 20, 2014

What happens when those promoting the 'health benefits' and 'cure all' effects of eating the beef being sold, either with stated or simply implied attributes of better health have a reversal of their health? Since the improvements can only be anecdotal, with no research with proper design to verify those health benefits, no proof is possible, is it? No genuine cause and effect of eating that beef as the cure is possible, on a scientific basis, so far as we can see here. Doesn't that present a danger to the ranch business allowing such claims to stand, if and when a customer who is disappointed becomes litigious????

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What's BEEF Editors' Blog?

Everyday musings from BEEF Editors on the latest beef industry news and events.


Burt Rutherford

Burt has more than 35 years of experience communicating about beef industry issues. A Colorado native and graduate of Colorado State University with a degree in agricultural journalism, he now works...

Wes Ishmael

Among the industry’s most insightful thinkers, Wes Ishmael concentrates on industry price and market perspectives for BEEF magazine. Along with his monthly “Cattle Economics” column...

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