If you shop in any major supermarket these days, you likely will find examples of branded beef products marketed as “natural,” “organic” or “hormone-free.” And, it seems, consumers are becoming increasingly interested in the production attributes behind their meat purchases.

At Colorado State University, Research Assistant Jennifer Grannis and Extension Specialist Dawn Thilmany conducted a survey of 1,400 consumers in Colorado, Utah and New Mexico to determine what production practices they consider most important in their meat-purchase decisions. The study also examined consumers’ willingness to pay for natural meat products.

The researchers asked consumers to rank the importance of production attributes for both beef and pork products, from one to five, with five being the most important. Following is the list of attributes along with their average rankings.

No small or crowded pens – 3.03
No antibiotics – 3.38
No growth hormones – 3.72
Grazing managed to protect streams – 3.37
Grazing managed to protect endangered species – 3.20
Animal born and raised within 250 miles – 2.41
Meat aged at 14 days – 3.00
Grass fed – 2.94

Results indicated that the attributes most important to consumers were “no use of antibiotics” and “hormone free.” Production practices that protected streams and did not further contribute to the endangerment of some wildlife were also of importance to respondents. "Animals born and raised within 250 miles" was the least important attribute to respondents.

The researchers also asked respondents how much they would be willing to pay for local, natural beef if it were available. Of the respondents, 38 percent were willing to pay a 10 percent price premium for natural steak. Fourteen percent were willing to pay a 20 percent price premium. For natural ground round, 67 percent of the respondents indicated they would pay a 12 percent price premium and 29 percent were willing to pay a 23 percent premium.