Beef has a long history of tremendous popularity with the American public. Keeping it current with modern trends and tastes, though, requires constant attention.

Keeping beef contemporary gets more working spaceBeef checkoff-funded recipe and product development got a boost recently when the New Product and Culinary Innovation Center received an expansion and update. The test kitchen facility in Centennial, Colo., located at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA),  a contractor to the Beef Checkoff Program, is used by a team of professionals that creates beef recipes and shows how to best utilize beef products. 

Space for the New Product and Culinary Innovation Center was significantly increased, while updated equipment was added, providing additional flexibility and capabilities to the checkoff-funded team, according to Steve Wald, executive director of beef innovations.

“We’ve become even more productive in creating new recipes and developing innovative beef ideas,” says Wald. “This is giving us more credibility among our various audiences, and improving our ability to showcase beef at its best.”

Consumer test stoves and ranges have increased from three to four (two each of electric and gas), while commercial equipment also has been enhanced. Refrigeration space has doubled, and storage space has also been increased. While previously there was only space for one or two testers, now up to four recipe testers can be working on beef recipes at the same time.

Proud History

The kitchens already had a tremendous reputation, according to Debra Baughman, director, test kitchen services. It began at the National Live Stock and Meat Board in Chicago, which conducted recipe testing from the time the organization was established in the early 1920s until it merged with the National Cattlemen’s Association to form NCBA in 1996. NCBA continued to utilize the Chicago test kitchens until 2009. In 2010, those offices closed and beef testing was moved to the NCBA offices near Denver.

Thousands of recipes were developed during the early years to use in meat promotions throughout the country. When the Beef Industry Council of the Meat Board was established in 1963, its efforts each year relied on the work of the Meat Board Test Kitchens to assure dependable and accurate recipes that consumers and food professionals could trust.

Cutline: Beef testing and recipe development have come a long way since first instituted at the National Livestock and Meat Board almost a century ago. Not only is equipment more advanced, but new work stations and techniques are adding to the capabilities of today’s beef checkoff recipe and product development. Photo credit:  National Livestock & Meat Board Collection, Box 419, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming

Today, hundreds of tests are conducted to produce from 80-100 recipes every year, says Baughman, providing information for numerous beef checkoff-funded programs in new product development, retail, foodservice, consumer food public relations, as well as for requests from media, state beef councils and others.

Crucial Element

In fact, the recipe development and testing function is crucial to the overall beef marketing and promotion effort conducted through the Beef Checkoff Program, according to Cevin Jones, an Idaho cattle feeder and farmer and chair of the checkoff’s Joint Domestic Preference Committee.  “Without the ability to really connect with the consumer, recognizing their tastes and how they’re eating and what kind of equipment they’re using, we have limited ability to get them to increase their beef usage,” says Jones. “Our beef testing facilities are fundamental to that process.”

For instance, the checkoff’s new Easy Fresh Cooking® (EFC) program promotes quick and simple meal solutions to consumers at the meat case. The recipe concepts for the program are developed by the culinary team focusing on the latest trends and at least Triple Tested™ on multiple types of equipment to provide assurances they will work consistently and dependably. The equipment and ingredients used are the types that are common and popular with consumers.

Each recipe in the EFC program uses no more than six ingredients and can be prepared in 30 minutes or less. Labels featuring EFC recipes are proven to make beef easier to shop for and easier to stock.

Recipes are also provided on retail on-pack recipe labels through the checkoff-funded “Beef Made Easy” program.  About 200 million Beef Made Easy labels are distributed to retail stores annually.

Foodservice recipes, too, get attention from the beef checkoff-funded Culinary Innovations Team. Created by well-known industry chefs, the recipes are reviewed by the team’s professionals, who can ensure the recipes are practical. Recent collaborators include Tim Cushman, chef/owner of O Ya and 2012 James Beard Foundation award winner, and Steve Schimoler, chef/owner of Crop Bistro & Bar.

Recipes developed by the team show up everywhere. For example, there are more than 400 recipes on the checkoff-funded “Beef It’s What’s For Dinner” website that were developed in the kitchens. Recipes are featured in consumer advertising and consumer media, on in-store displays in grocery stores, and in national free-standing newspaper inserts that reach 30-50 million households with each insertion. Bloggers see them and use them; regional publications, newspapers and websites do, too. They are shared on Twitter and Facebook and used as food samples at events and for inspiration by independent recipe developers – and by consumers looking to experiment with something new.

At the state level, expertise from the national culinary team is also invaluable, according to Kaiti George, registered dietitian with the Nebraska Beef Council. “We use culinary center-developed recipes for blogs, ads, health professional communication and consumer education,” she says.” I am proud to be able to tell health professionals and consumers that all recipes are triple-tested. In addition, the team is always on top of the latest food trends and develops recipes that both ‘foodies’ and the everyday cook can enjoy.”

“It’s impossible to fully gauge the reach of the recipes we develop through the checkoff program,” according to Jones. “The fact is, though, recipes are what bring beef to Americans. They inspire, motivate and elevate the eating experience for beef, and have the power not only to bring out unexpected flavor, but surprise people with how beef’s great taste can be easy to prepare and good for them at the same time.”

Based on Science

That inspiration isn’t solely emotional, says Baughman. Extensive market research is conducted to make sure current food, equipment and ingredient trends are followed. An extensive “pantry study” is accessed regularly, for instance, to help the culinary team use concepts that feature the most common tastes and techniques.  

“Our work has evolved as consumers have evolved,” says Baughman, who has been doing work for the beef industry through the Beef Checkoff Program for 25 years. “We’re able to keep on top of flavor, consumer and beef industry trends. At the same time, we capture the scientific data needed to assure that all of our tests and measurements are flawless.”

Part of that scientific data involves the nutritional properties of beef. Since most recipes developed today incorporate lean beef cuts with whole grains and vegetables in sensible portions, they are easy to apply to educational materials shared with health professionals on the checkoff-funded website and through various health events by both national program staff and state partners.

“Recipes help us communicate the nutrition information that the checkoff generates using nutrition research,” says Jeanne Harland, an Illinois cow-calf producer and chair of the Joint Nutrition and Health Subcommittee. “It puts the science into practice for both health professionals and consumers.”

According to Shenoa French, associate director of the New Product and Culinary Innovation Center, new product ideas and recipes can be showcased to industry audiences in the Centennial offices, which provides additional idea promotion and visibility to the Center. The commercially inspected and approved kitchen is sometimes also utilized by beef industry partners, giving even more opportunities for new beef ideas to reach consumers.

“We’re proud of this new space and how it will help beef producers further present their products,” says French. “Our team and its more than 70 years of collective experience can certainly better utilize its skills with these improvements.”

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