Beef products don't just magically show up on the plate, and a distributor and restaurateur explain why.
BEEF producers and consumers often wonder about menu prices for beef entrees like New York strips and other steaks because the price seems to be a hefty premium to what producers are paid for their cattle and even to what packers are paid for their beef.
However, the food system's work is not yet done when the beef leaves the plant. "The reality," according to Mark Polzer, is that a product "doesn't go right from the packer to the plate. There are important steps in between."
Polzer is vice president of Certified Angus Beef LLC (CAB).
The in-between steps take place at the distribution and restaurant levels, according to Ron Becker, president of Stock Yards Meat Co., and Rock Cassara, owner of John Q's, an upscale restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio. Stock Yards is a division of U.S. Foodservice Inc., the second-largest foodservice distributor in the U.S.
Distributors cut and package steaks to their customers' specifications and provide market-related advice such as new products and price trends, Becker said.
They also focus on food safety and quality control, conducting inspections of delivery trucks, monitoring temperatures and assigning tracking numbers, he said, noting that "we have full traceability on every case."
They also age beef, normally for 14-30 days, he said, explaining that this means that beef inventory might be tied up for as long as a month, representing a significant amount of money.
Customers can request the brands and even packer sources they want and specify how they want beef cut, diced, trimmed or marinated, he said.
Customers also can enter orders as late as 5:30 p.m. for next-morning delivery, Becker said. They can wait until after lunch to determine how much and what kind of product they will need the next day, but there are expenses for distributors, including operating multiple shifts and running smaller trucks to make late-night or early-morning deliveries, to provide such an "aggressive service platform."
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