It seems tough to find upbeat aspects in media reports about the economy these days, but even a tougher economy may sport a silver lining or two for beef producers.

The “U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2008” report released in May by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) concludes that economic concerns are compelling Americans to cook at home more and eat less often at restaurants (71%). In fact, families are eating their main meal at restaurants only 1.2 times/week this year, compared to 1.3 in 2007 and 1.5 in 2006.

In addition, the report says nutrition is very much on the minds of shoppers; 41% indicate they're “very concerned” about the nutritional content of the foods they eat, and 47% are “somewhat concerned.”

Powerful Beefscapes

Those are two trends that would seem to rest securely in the wheelhouse of the beef industry's current marketing and promotion efforts.

“Powerful Beefscapes” is the industry campaign launched earlier this year aimed at reinforcing “consumers' passion for beef and the protein body benefits it provides.”

Previously, the checkoff program had split its resources between two separate campaigns, one focusing on beef's nutritional profile and the other on consumers' passion for beef. “Powerful Beefscapes” was aimed at consumers looking for foods that satisfy their cravings and deliver good nutrition. Beef, after all, is an excellent or good source of nine essential vitamins and minerals, including protein.

Despite all the successful efforts made in recent years to improve its convenience profile, beef has traditionally been considered a fare for family-meal events. And FMI President and CEO Tim Hammonds points out that the FMI study indicates the great American home family meal tradition is making a comeback.

The study found that consumers equate eating at home with eating healthier, and as many as 91% say they eat healthier when dining at home. This number includes 39% who believe home-cooked food is “much healthier.”

And besides saving money (eating in costs an average of $5/person, while eating out costs $12), eating at home has a social benefit. “Research shows that children who dine regularly with their families at home are healthier, superior academic performers and less prone to substance abuse,” the report says.

Other study points include:

  • 82% of stores feature natural or organic foods, up from 80% last year, and 72% in 2006.

  • Consumers remain challenged in meal planning. In fact, 28% of consumers say they don't know the fare two hours before dinnertime on weekdays; the number jumps to 35% on weekends.

  • Consumers remain uneasy about eating products derived from cloned animals. As many as 77% aren't comfortable, including 44% who are “not at all comfortable.” That's up significantly from 61% and 31%, respectively, in 2007.

More than eight in 10 consumers (81%) believe cloned foods should be labeled, and nearly six in 10 (58%) hold this view “strongly.”

This is all food for thought as the industry plans its marketing and promotion efforts in a tougher business climate.