With recent advances in cattle and beef prices, a common question among producers is, “Can we maintain beef demand?” One fact brings some comfort: as an industry, we are producing the highest quality beef in nearly 50 years.

In 2014, the share of cattle grading Choice is averaging nearly 67 percent, compared to the mid- to low-50 percent area just a few years ago. Percent Prime is averaging over 4 percent. Consumer taste sets target for beefAngus-type cattle qualifying for the Certified Angus Beef  (CAB) brand are up from 24-25 percent a year ago to a range of 26-29 percent for early 2014.

What you might not know is how important quality grade is to consumer satisfaction. Dr. Dale Woerner, Colorado State University meat scientist, noted at a recent industry seminar that flavor has replaced tenderness as the key driver of beef consumption. He added that marbling is the critical component in beef flavor, so as quality grade increases, consumer satisfaction increases.

That’s based on research funded by the Beef Check-off, he said, where a panel trained to detect differences in beef flavor evaluated middle meats from carcasses of varying quality grade. The results were enlightening. As shown in the figure below, Select grading product was less than 30 percent desirable while Prime was in the upper-90 percent range. Since flavor is our beef consumption and demand driver, the target is very clear.

Lee Leachman, at his recent pre-sale educational event for Leachman Cattle of Colorado, told cattlemen that the beef industry’s grading target is not 70 percent Choice as once supposed—it is 70 percent Premium Choice and Prime. Then we achieve consumer satisfaction and ensure demand.