The concept of value-added beef has taken on meanings beyond just physical attributes of the meat.   Colorado State University meat scientist Gary Smith, PhD, speaking at the 2008 Beef Improvement Federation’s Annual Research Symposium in Calgary, Alberta, last week, outlined some of the latest trends in value-added and branded beef production. Smith says sweeping structural changes are transforming the U.S. beef industry from a commodity-oriented industry dominated by small, independent producers to consumer-driven production systems in which firms or producers can manage product attributes from farm to table to generate value-added kinds and brands of beef.

Consumers, Smith says, increasingly want a closer connection to their food and its production. Safeway, Kroger and Super-Value, he notes, have developed their “own” brands of “natural” or “organic” beef over the last few months, but their sales of such products have been disappointing. One reason, he says, is that consumers who purchase and eat natural, organic or grass-fed beef want to feel connected to the source of that beef. They want to believe that someone, some specific farmer or rancher, personally provided oversight of the raising system.

Citing Alan Mammoser of Conscious Choice, Smith says the idea of “story beef” includes new elements, with consumers asking whether the people who grew the cattle live nearby, properly care for the animals, treat farm and ranch workers fairly, practice environmental stewardship, operate sustainably and receive a fair price. In reference to buyers of grass-fed beef, Smith adds that most of them don’t care as much about what the cattle ate as they do about how the cattle were raised — on pasture versus in confinement.

Smith also notes that while demand for natural and organic beef has grown substantially in recent years, the current downturn in the economy is slowing the market for these high-end products. Retailers, he says, are asking some branded companies to back off on some “never-ever” requirements to keep production costs — and retail prices — in line.  For more, click here.