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Two Common Questions Consumers Ask Most At The Meat Counter

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Answering consumer questions at the meat case can be tricky; here is how one producer responds.

Last month, I had the privilege to stay with the Port family in Clarion, PA, while I was in town to speak at a Farm Bureau meeting and an FFA fundraiser. The Ports own and operate Clarion Farms Beef Barn -- a farm-to-fork beef business. They feed and finish Holstein steers, the cuts of which they market through an on-farm retail store, as well as a weekly farmers market in Pittsburgh. While visiting with the Ports, I was fascinated by their stories of the interesting and oftentimes pointed questions that consumers ask them.

The retail side of their beef business started as a senior project in high school for John-Scott Port, age 26, who realized that if he wanted to return home to his family farm, they needed to diversify. The result of his project was the Clarion Farms Beef brand, and a growing demand for the beef he raised.

So, what are the top two questions consumers ask at the meat counter or the farmers market?

“There are two categories of questions that we hear all the time -- those about animal welfare and care, and those about beef cuts and preparation,” Port says.

Seems simple enough to have answers to those two questions, but not so fast. It’s harder than it looks to answer some of consumers’ most pointed questions.

Talking Animal Welfare

“The animal welfare/care type questions are always about what we feed our cattle (corn), do we treat them humanely (obviously), do we use growth hormones (no), do we use antibiotics (yes), is the corn we feed GMO (yes), do they get to spend time on pasture (no), does my family actually raise them or do we buy them from someone else and resell (we raise them all), etc.

“For me, these are the most frustrating questions because I know the only reason the topic comes up is people read crazy stuff on the Internet and reflexively ask pointed questions based on what they have read.

“What I have learned from answering these questions a million times is this -- a vast majority of people are not really concerned with animal nutrition, average daily gains in cattle, herd health, livestock handling techniques, modern crop genetics, barn design and manure handling, or the lineage of your family. The underlying question once you brush away all the trash is, ‘Is this food safe for my family?’ Once I figured out that is what I am actually answering, I became much better at disarming uneasy consumers,” explains Port.

Choosing The Best Cuts And Recipes

Port admits that, “The beef cuts and preparation questions are a lot more fun to answer. People know ground beef, ribeye, and filet, but they honestly don’t know too much else about all the different cuts of beef. A surprising number of our customers actually get overwhelmed if they are presented with too many different selections. They want something in their price range that will taste good but they don’t have any idea what to even ask for, and they are afraid to spend the money on something they might ruin and have to throw away.

I really like to cook – especially beef – so I use this as an opportunity to regularly sample every cut we offer. By trying different recipes, I can figure out which cooking techniques work best for which cuts; this helps sell product because I can suggest a specific cut and a proven recipe for that cut to a customer looking for dinner. It is rewarding to see someone return to the store beaming with pride after a successful first attempt at preparing something previously unfamiliar.”

Port adds that, for the most part, consumers genuinely are excited and eager to learn more about beef. Although dealing with the skeptics is part of the job description, Port’s passion for the beef business and love of working with people has helped him be successful in his meat store and at the farmers markets.

From The Cow-Calf To The Feeder, Everyone Should Get Involved In Retail

“I really think everyone in the beef industry – from the cow-calf operations, to the feeders, to the packers – should immerse themselves in retail once a year. Learning how to sell your product to someone who doesn’t know a thing about it hones your skills in a hurry,” Port advises.

“Consumer outreach is everything. There is some nasty stuff floating around out there about beef production and the people involved with it, and the only reason those types of things get started is because most consumers don’t associate actual people with food production anymore.

Interaction with consumers is the only way to make that connection again. If people have that opportunity to discover that it is indeed other people producing their beef, I think many of those horrendous assumptions about beef production would disappear,” Port says.

What is the most interesting, naive or pointed question a consumer has ever asked you about cattle production and the beef business? How did your respond? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

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Discuss this Blog Entry 8

on Apr 4, 2013

How many head do they finish a year Amanda?

JSP (not verified)
on Apr 4, 2013

We sold 127 through our store in 2012. The first year we started (05) I think we sold 5. Hopefully in 2013 we will continue to grow!

John R. Dykers, Jr. (not verified)
on Apr 4, 2013

Our experience at retail for CharLean beef was very similar, but we took a slightly different approach. We boned out completely and sold filet mignon, ribeye, NY Strip streaks, cut the sirloin into beef bites, did learn to cut out the chuck tender, but otherwise ground the chuck and sold it as packs of patties. We were not happy with the flat iron steak. We ground the round and sold it in one pound packs. The trimmings went into one or two pound "Pet Packs" and was one of our most profitable sellers! Many customers made their own hamburgers out of Pet Packs as they wanted more fat and we emphasized the leanness of the rest of our product. ALL could be cooked on a George Foreman Grill in less than 5 minutes and dinner was ready! Zatarain's Creole Seasoning was our choice for great flavor without the fat. Experienced cooks would do their own variations, but the simplicity appealed to our customers, and knowing that each pack was labeled to each individual animal and we could trace even a hamburger patty back 6 or more generations impressed them with our management and their safety! And it was always tender.
johndykersmd@dykers.com

John R. Dykers, Jr. (not verified)
on Apr 4, 2013

I neglected to mention the next step in our business model. CharLean (TM) was always tender. We ate one ribeye out of each carcass just to be sure! Tough job but somebody had to do it. We are now engineering our patented mechanical tenderness tester and soon everybody will want to know the "John's Score" of their meat putchases, 1-10 with 10 the most tender!
johndykersmd@dykers.com

on Apr 5, 2013

Sampling steaks...tough job!

W.E. (not verified)
on Apr 4, 2013

Before deciding that cattlemen make great nutritional coaches, some of us need to look in the mirror. I'm not talking about you, Amanda. I realize that you are a distance runner, and that's the kind of strenuous exercise that can safely do away with the extra fat in corn-fed beef. To be educated on the true, deep-healing nutritional value of beef, we must have a mind open to the facts that beef cattle are not designed to eat corn, and that people did not evolve eating corn-fed beef. To feed our ruminant livestock corn does away with beneficial levels of CLA, Omega 3s, vitamin E, and beta carotene which deepen the nutritional value of beef that is finished on green forages. Holsteins are not, of course, bred to make beef. Because they have been selected from cows fed grain to deliver high quantities of milk, Holstein steers will likely always need some corn in order to make decent quality beef. Even though they are naturally ruminants designed to convert high roughage rations to milk, modern dairy breeds can't convert efficiently enough to produce tender beef on pasture forages. In the old days, multi-purpose steers were used for draft and allowed to graze until four to six years of age before being used as food. On the other hand, modern beef cattle that have been bred and selected on grass to finish on grass can do so within a reasonable time. Yes, beef finishes faster and is more consistently tender on grain, but is not more flavorful and not as high in nutrition as grassfed beef. Grassfed beef can't be mass-produced in a feedlot. Ryegrass and other very high TDN quality grasses will help even out the quality of grassfed beef, as will green chop silage crops. A George Forman grill will ruin grassfed beef, by the way. Since it is designed to drain away fat, it also drains away the natural moisture in the beef, along with the beneficial fatty acids that make good grassfed beef so satisfyingly nutritious.

on Apr 5, 2013

Thank you for your opinions. I tend to disagree that we need to bash one sector of the beef industry to promote another. The great thing about the beef business is that we offer many choices to please our consumers. They can CHOOSE, and that's great! And, I believe if consumers ate more beef -- be it corn-fed, grass-fed, organic, etc. -- and less junk, they would be much healthier overall.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 8, 2013

I enjoyed this column.

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”

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Amanda Radke

A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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