Consumers and the beef industry are benefiting from retail deals on middle meats. In a conversation at NCBA’s summer conference with Randy Irion, Director of Channel Marketing for NCBA and Margie Hande, a cow-calf producer from North Dakota who serves on the organization’s Retail Committee, we discussed how promotions at the retail level are helping sell more steak.

The recession’s impact on the restaurant trade, coupled with an uptick in production of Choice beef, has made boosted the availability of high-quality cuts at supermarkets, and retailers have responded with more featuring, coupons and good deals. The Beef Checkoff also has stepped in, developing partnerships with companies such as A-1 Steak Sauce, Sutter Home Wines and others to offer steak coupons to their customers. The checkoff also helps retailers with “Easy Fresh” cooking labels that offer preparation tips for consumers, now available in over 15,000 stores.

Retail steak prices, Irion says, have averaged 5 percent lower this year, with featuring and promotions boosting sales by 7 to 8 percent over last year, and an overall increase in dollar sales for retail middle meats. Wholesale beef prices remain below year-ago levels, but Irion says they would be even lower without these efforts to move steaks in grocery stores.

In other trends, Hande says retailers see continued long-term growth in ground-beef sales, especially in leaner products such as ground chuck and ground round. Ground beef, she says, is a product consumers routinely buy without a clear plan for how they will use it. With other meat products, shoppers have a meal plan in mind at the time of purchase, but ground beef they just like to have on hand. Consumers also are stocking up on featured beef, she says. Home freezer sales are up, and people are becoming smarter shoppers, watching for features and using coupons to fill their freezers.

Smaller, leaner steaks are popular with consumers at retail as they look for ways to indulge themselves with a great meal while also controlling portion size and calories. Top sirloin has been a popular cut in recent months.

As for the “value cuts” such as the flatiron steak cut from the chuck, Irion says retail sales have been somewhat flat lately, mainly because consumers find such good deals on middle-meat steak cuts. Their priorities are taste, then value, then nutrition he says, with safety an overlying necessity.

A Wall Street Journal article last week, titled “Prime time for steak lovers,” described how consumers are finding affordable prices on USDA Prime steak, previously only available at high-end restaurants.