The economy is upside-down and so are determinants of carcass value. Whether these are short-lived aberrations or signs that long-held paradigms are shifting, the current landscape provides fodder for debate.

If the Choice–Select spread is relatively narrow for years to come, will a quest for greater carcass yield mean more equal emphasis between muscle and marbling? Asks the North American Limousin Foundation.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NBCA) Long Range Plan identifies food safety, nutrition, convenience, taste, positive eating experiences and value as beef-demand drivers. With the global economic upheaval and consumers pinched to the breaking point, value has taken center stage.

According to a recent survey conducted by the American Meat Institute (AMI) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), financially strapped consumers are dining out less, eating at home more and trading down in their beef-purchase decisions. Still, nearly two-thirds of shoppers put some or a lot of effort into eating healthy – defined as cutting back on fat, calories, saturated fat and sodium. The survey noted resilience in shoppers’ commitment to purchase natural or organic meats, with 18 percent stating they have made such purchases in the past three months, down just 1 percentage point from last year.

The consumer’s hunger to save money has contributed to total package price growing in importance, with higher priced cuts suffering more than lower priced items. According to CattleFax, from April 2008 to April 2009, rib and loin (steak) primal values fell by about 9 percent while chuck and round (burger and roast) primal values increased by about 14 percent. Whereas pricier middle meats historically drive carcass value, their influence has diminished in these tough economic times.

Throughout most of the first quarter of 2009, the available supply of carcasses of different quality and yield grades, along with consumer demand, drove the Choice–Select spread for a sustained period to less than $2. In fact, the average premium paid for Yield Grade (YG) 1 or 2 carcasses was roughly equal to that paid for Certified Angus Beef® (CAB®) carcasses, which grade average-Choice or better. Further, the discount for Standard grade carcasses was significantly less than the discounts for YG 4 and heavyweight carcasses, reflecting an oversupply of heavy finished cattle.

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