There are glimmers of hope on the consumer horizon, says John Lundeen, executive director of market research with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA).

The importance of protein in the diet is on the rise with consumers, he says. In 2007, 55% of surveyed consumers said protein is extremely or somewhat important in the diet. Now, that figure is 64%.

What's more, Lundeen said NCBA's research reveals consumers are planning to increase beef purchases. In July, 13% of consumers surveyed said they intend to eat more beef vs. 12% who indicated they were cutting back, for a 1% net gain. For a short interview with Lundeen, go to