Given the interconnectedness of the beef industry, challenges in every segment have implications up and down the marketing chain. “Our consumer sees beef as unhealthful and we as an industry, between us, still have to get the word out that beef is healthy.” United does that with a team of four dietitians who produce information on the nutritional attributes of all the products sold in the store, and especially beef.

“Another challenge we face is that most housewives just don’t know how to cook. And really don’t have the time,” Nettles says. “And guys don’t know how to cook, either. That’s why ground beef is such a huge part of our sales.”

A Closer Look: What's Ahead For The U.S. Meat Business?

So it’s up to the meat department, working with their dietitians, to develop more value-added items. “To add spices, add seasonings, add traits to the meat so that you can just pop it in the oven. So we still have to do more work on our end to help you guys sell more beef.”

However, the thing that he wakes up every morning worrying about is E. coli. “We do a lot at the store level to educate our team members. Everybody in my department can tell you about cross-contamination, they can tell you cooking temperature for beef, they can tell you the correct way to stack the counter so you don’t cross-contaminate.” And they take extra pains behind to counter to sanitize knives, cutting blocks and rags. “It’s a much different process today because of that one word – E. coli – than it was 20 years ago.”

But perhaps the biggest challenge he faces is the same one ranchers and feeders face as well – cost. “Beef cost to me is up over 10% from last year and we’re up 6% in retail price. So we’re fighting the same battles you guys do. We just do it on a different scale and in a different arena,” Nettles says.