Consumers spend a lot more time shopping the meat department than the grocery aisles. That's according to a recent National Pork Board study, which found consumers spend an average of four minutes making purchase decisions at the meat case, compared to only one minute for all other food categories.

In the study, more than 300 consumers were observed shopping the meat cases in several stores in three geographically dispersed markets. Researchers recorded perceived purchase influences and followed up with a brief intercept survey once shoppers made a meat selection.

Researchers attribute the extra time in the meat case to the fact that meat is a high-involvement purchase. In purchasing meat, 82% of shoppers physically examine and compare packages before making a decision. What's more, meat is the most expensive and likely the most critical meal planning choice, they say.

For 83% of those surveyed, the meat department is a planned weekly shopping destination. Most consumers plan on buying meat, but many don't know the cut until they get to the meat case.

Those who buy beef and pork are more likely to decide on a specific cut at the meat case. That may be because of greater variety and inconsistency of cuts to consider, compared to household staples like chicken breast and ground beef, researchers say.

The study also revealed that 97% of shoppers don't seek assistance in the meat department. This is likely a function of today's self-service meat cases and the industry's labor shortage, researchers explain.

According to the study, meat purchase decisions are more sensitive to marketing activities than other purchases in the store. Of those who recalled advertising, 73% said they were influenced by meat advertising compared to only 47% for other food products.

As a side note, a recent Food Marketing Institute (FMI) survey of 2,000 U.S. consumers found that 83% of shoppers consider having a fresh meat department with a butcher “very or somewhat important.” In addition, the FMI survey revealed that only 6% of consumers consider case-ready meat more advantageous than that prepared by an in-store butcher.

For more information on the National Pork Board study, contact Karen Boillot, director of retail marketing for the National Pork Board, at 515/223-2787 or

Rangeland Is A Carbon Sink

Could a missing 2 billion tons of carbon be hidden below the world's grasslands and rangelands? Reports from an 11-state Agricultural Research Service (ARS) carbon dioxide monitoring network in the central and western U.S. indicate rangeland soils could be storing a sizeable share of it.

In a study of atmospheric carbon, global modelers in the 1980s couldn't account for 2 billion tons of carbon emitted annually in carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning, deforestation and other activities. Network scientists wondered if rangelands — which comprise half the Earth's land surface and account for 824 million acres in the U.S. — were the missing sink where the carbon was being stored.

The network was formed in 1995, and its results so far show that just the Great Plains' 126 million acres of grassland alone could store 9 million metric tons (mmts.) of carbon annually. ARS scientists estimate that U.S. rangeland soils have the potential to store a total of 30 to 110 mmts. of carbon/year. That's about 5% of the annual U.S. emissions of carbon.

Locating the missing sink will help in managing it so it keeps performing its valuable carbon storage function, ARS scientists say. Network research shows that rangelands serve this function even if being grazed, as long as the land isn't overgrazed. Rangeland has an advantage over forests for storing carbon because most rangeland carbon is stored below ground, where fire won't release it.

There are currently 12 monitoring sites in the network. These include Mandan, ND; Woodward, OK; Temple, TX; Burns, OR; Logan, UT; Dubois, ID; Miles City, MT; Cheyenne, WY; Fort Collins, CO; Tucson, AZ; Las Cruces, NM; and Boise, ID.

For more on the ARS carbon dioxide rangeland-monitoring network, see the October issue of Agricultural Research magazine at:

New Bovine TB Test

A new blood-based assay for detecting tuberculosis (TB) in livestock and wildlife — and which requires just a single blood test — has been developed by USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS). Currently, the only government-approved TB detection method is a skin test that causes a reaction that is measured 72 hours later. This requires handling animals a second time.

Developed by ARS veterinarians Ray Waters and Mitch Palmer of the National Animal Disease Center in Ames, IA, the new assay detects nitrite in blood-sample cultures. Nitrite is an indication of nitric oxide production, which mammals produce as a natural response when fighting TB, the ARS researchers say.

Waters says the easy and inexpensive new test will likely be used on livestock species such as cattle, sheep and goats and on wildlife such as deer, bison and elk.

Feeding Ammoniated Wheat Straw

Exposure to ammoniated wheat straw as suckling heifer calves improves their performance as mature cows. A Utah State University study looked at the effects of exposure to ammoniated wheat straw (AWS) early in life on their performance later in life. The researchers allotted 32 mature cows (five years of age) to two groups — one exposed to AWS for 66 days as suckling calves, while the other group was not exposed to AWS as suckling calves.

The cows had free access to AWS during a 150-day wintering period for three consecutive years. They were supplemented with alfalfa hay to meet increasing protein and energy requirements from late gestation through early lactation. The results showed that:

  • For all three years, yearly average bodyweight and condition scores were significantly higher for mature cows exposed as calves to AWS than mature cows not exposed to AWS.

  • The postpartum interval to rebreeding was shorter for exposed cows in two out of the three years.

  • Exposed cows also produced more milk than their non-exposed counterparts in years one and two.

This study supports the results of previous research with other ruminant species that revealed the importance of exposing animals at an early age to dietary regimens they may encounter later in life, particularly if those regimens are likely to be challenging, such as low-quality forages. The authors recommend that producers consider previous exposure to low-quality forages when considering using such forages to reduce feed costs (Wiedmeier et al. 2002. J. Anim. Sci. 80: 2340.)

“Research Roundup” is compiled by BEEF staff. Submit contributions to