KING CITY, Mo. – Consumers are upgrading their beef buying habits. They prefer steaks of choice and prime U.S. Department of Agriculture quality grades.
Supermarkets noted that demand shift and filled more of their meat cases with high-quality beef.
Now, producers must meet that increasing demand as buyers pay more for high-quality beef. Price premiums are paid for calves that grade choice and prime.
In recent years, there was little price difference paid for choice over select grades of beef. However, in recent weeks premiums for higher quality grades continue to increase.
Those lessons in beef marketing were told by Larry Corah, vice president of Certified Angus Beef (CAB), at a meeting of northwest Missouri farmers in King City. CAB is a nonprofit group marketing beef for the American Angus Association.
There’s a reason people prefer high-quality meat. “A properly cooked prime steak will likely be tender, juicy and flavorful. Those characteristics make for an enjoyable eating experience,” Corah said.
Chefs at white-tablecloth restaurants learned that high-quality beef keeps customers coming back. “If you pay big bucks for dinner, a tough steak gets your attention,” Corah said.
Eating satisfaction relates to USDA quality grades. The grades, from the top, are prime, choice, select and standard.
Restaurants find that only one in 26 prime steaks will be sent back to the kitchen by an unhappy diner. However, if select steaks are served, one in five will be returned.
“At 20 percent, that’s way too high a probability of a poor eating experience,” Corah said.
Much of a quality grade depends on the amount of marbling in a steak. Marbling indicates the flecks of fat between muscle cells in a steak. Marbling brings tenderness, juiciness and flavor.
Presently, only about 3 percent of carcasses at U.S. packing plants grade prime. However, 40 percent grade select.
For marketing under the CAB brand, carcasses must grade prime or high choice. About 20 percent of plant-run carcasses qualify for CAB premiums.
Farmers have control over how steaks will grade. “While genetics is very important, nutrition, health and management all play a part,” Corah said.
Bull selection is a starting point. Records show that of calves from the top 10 percent of Angus bulls, 4 percent grade prime. But only 1 percent grade prime from the bottom 10 percent of bulls. Also, carcass weight of calves from the top bulls averages 750 pounds while carcasses of calves from the bottom 10 percent of bulls average 100 pounds lighter.