Consumers tell us that tenderness and taste are two of the most important attributes when they are evaluating their beef eating experience. They want tender beef and are willing to pay for it.
That was the message Dr. Keith Belk, professor at Colorado State University's Center for Red Meat Quality and Safety, delivered to agricultural editors and other participants at a Sensory Evaluation Briefing and Wet Lab held at Iowa State University. The training session was hosted by Elanco Animal Health as part of its continuing effort to educate beef producers on the importance of tenderness of the beef they produce.
Tenderness is an important aspect of beef palatability that ultimately drives consumer satisfaction. The Beef Checkoff's 2005 National Beef Tenderness Survey shows the industry has made improvements since the 1999 study, but there still are inconsistencies and a need for improvement.
A key factor in beef tenderness is the aging process. Most experts agree beef becomes more tender when it is aged about 21 days. However, according to a number of meat industry experts - including the University of Minnesota Extension department - most of the beef offered for sale as retail cuts in the supermarket is aged five to seven days. Rarely is beef in the retail case aged more than 10 to 14 days.
Aging isn't the only factor driving beef tenderness. "Quality grades and marbling itself have become extremely important," says Belk. "Prime and upper two-thirds of Choice-branded beef are in high demand and are returning larger profits back through the production chain. That's the signal consumers are sending to us. An excellent example of that is the success that Certified Angus Beef LLC (CAB) is experiencing."
Dr. Larry Corah, vice president of supply development for CAB, says, "Our single biggest challenge is finding enough cattle that meet our quality specifications. Consumer demand for CAB products is growing faster than our suppliers' ability to produce them. The beef industry needs to avoid using products or management practices that decrease the marbling or tenderness of the final product. Efficiency is great, but efficiency at the expense of quality or tenderness of the meat is counter-productive for the producer and for the entire beef industry."
"In the new food chain equation, it is not enough to provide technologies that only meet production challenges," says Roy Riggs, director of Elanco's beef business unit. "New products must also help producers meet consumers' demand for tender, top-quality beef. We know just one bad eating experience can negatively impact all segments of the food chain. That's why Elanco is committed to developing production inputs that not only improve animal health and performance, but also maintain or improve the palatability of the meat products."
Elanco believes that sensory evaluation training programs like the one held recently at Iowa State University are an important part of producer education. Riggs says, "We believe that the first critical step in maintaining beef quality is to raise producer awareness of the importance consumer's place on tenderness and how tenderness can be measured and managed. We know today's consumers have many choices of protein. If we want their first choice to be beef, we need to help our producers deliver the tender, tasty product consumers demand each time they purchase beef."