Understanding what makes consumers tick with regard to the beef they feed their families is critical information that helps the Beef Checkoff Program not only respond to current issues but also strategically plan educational and promotional programs for the future. Two important surveys helping the checkoff in this mission are the Consumer Beef Index, a semi-annual online survey designed to identify and track consumer perceptions of beef and highlight consumption trends, and the Consumer Image Index, an annual online survey designed to identify perceptions of beef products, production practices and areas of great interest and/or concern for consumers.

Consumer preferences explored in recent Beef Checkoff studiesAccording to the most recent Consumer Beef Index, which was conducted in July 2013 and surveyed more than 1,000 individuals nationwide, consumers showed a willingness to reach deeper into their wallets to pay for beef at retail. While the pounds of beef sold in the grocery channel was down 1 percent due to reduced supply, consumers spent approximately $550 million additional for beef compared to the previous year.

The survey also found that 93 percent of consumers reported eating beef monthly, and there has not been a statistically significant increase in consumers who say beef is too expensive. While this is good news, the latest CBI data shows a decline in average weekly consumption of beef, from 2.7 in 2007 to 2.0 in 2013. Further, those reporting eating beef three or more times per week has dropped from 43 percent to 34 percent during that same time.

Finally, the CBI data shows that consumers continue to love the taste of beef as taste scores have continuously climbed, from 83 percent in 2007 to 91 percent in 2013.

The Consumer Image Index, in its second consecutive year, surveyed approximately 1,200 consumers nationwide in fall 2013. It gives the beef industry a glimpse of how consumers perceive not just beef products but also the practices we employ to raise cattle and produce beef.

While the survey found that consumers have an overall more positive perception of chicken than beef, with 92 percent of respondents having a strong or somewhat positive perception of chicken compared to 78 percent for beef, their perception of production practices are very similar, ranging from 64 to 66 percent strong or somewhat positive. Further, respondents’ concerns related to beef production included things like antibiotic/hormone use, diseased/sick cattle, inhumane treatment, crowded conditions, methods of slaughter, and cattle diet.

According to survey results, consumers are becoming more interested in meat production, and knowledge of meat production practices generally improves respect for the beef industry’s practices among the general public. Consumers reported feeling more informed about production practices, and showed increased favorability towards cattle ranchers, butchers and grocers. Ranchers have strong credibility among consumers as an information source, and consumers reported having more conversations with ranchers in 2013. Finally, consumers say they want even more transparency to help them understanding the industry’s standards of practice and ethics.

Ultimately, consumers speak the loudest with their dollars. While beef prices have been on the rise, consumers have not walked away from beef products. As an industry, we should take that as proof of their loyalty and strive to continue delivering what they want – both in terms of high-quality, safe and great tasting beef but also in talking with consumers about what we do to continuously improve. There will be challenges – whether dealing with competing proteins, consumer scrutiny of specific practices and technologies or something we haven’t even identified as a challenge today – but surveys like these, conducted by the Beef Checkoff Program, are designed to ensure we are able to do what it takes to keep beef at the center of the dinner plate.