I don’t know about you, but USDA’s monthly WASDE (World Agricultural and Supply and Demand Estimates) report is a must read.
The statistics the department’s researchers and economists compile are mind-numbingly, exhaustingly extensive.
Want an update on wheat production this season in Kazakhstan? Figure around 13.9 million metric tons.
Wondering how the cotton harvest in Turkey is looking for 2016? Bad news: It’s projected to be down 21% to about 2.65 million bales.
Hey, what about the soybean crop in Paraguay? Looks like it’ll be up about 8.5% to about 8.8 million metric tons.
But let’s turn to a much more relevant category — beef, specifically some very intriguing news: According to USDA projections, Americans will consume an estimated 54.3 pounds of beef per person this year. That represents the first upward trend in 10 years, an increase of nearly half a pound per capita versus 2015.
Maybe that doesn’t seem so significant, especially when compared with the historical high point of 1976, when the country was eating more than 95 pounds of beef per person. But it’s been steadily downhill ever since.
After decades of consumers being persuaded that “red meat bad — white meat good,” the trend seems to have been halted, perhaps even reversed.
A widespread trend
Yes, beef prices have moderated somewhat over the last six months, but here’s what’s really driving that: foodservice.
As fast-food and sit-down chains push more beef choices — and discount deals — onto their menus, consumers respond predictably. A quick survey of the sector is revealing:
- Wendy’s. Wendy’s is selling more beef after starting a 4-for-$4 promotion, which includes a cheeseburger, in October. The Dublin, Ohio-based chain also repositioned its Dave’s Hamburgers with a new bakery-style bun and spicier condiments.
- Burger King. The company’s latest ad campaign includes “2 for $5” deal features the Extra Long Buttery Cheeseburger.
- Applebee’s. As part of its highly touted new Online Ordering service, the chain is featuring six different sirloin steaks, including a “Shrimp and Parmesan” choice, and seven different burger and beef sandwiches, including “The Blazin’ Texan” barbecue brisket sandwich with jalapenos and hot sauce.
- The Texas Roadhouse. The casual theme chain is advertising “Wild West Wednesdays,” featuring an 8-ounce sirloin steak and two sides for $9.99.
- Chili’s. While not exactly most people’s preferred destination for a steak dinner, the company is marketing a new line of steaks as part of its “2-for-$20” dinner menu. Selections include a citrus-chili avocado sirloin and steak topped with honey-chipotle shrimp.
Then, of course, there’s McDonald’s. Although the category leader is focused on its recent “breakfast anytime” rollout, check out its current ad campaign for the 100 Million Monopoly game. The imagery is all about the venerable Big Mac, probably the most iconic food item in the history of American foodservice.
All things considered, it is positive news that despite never-ending negativity about red meat’s (alleged) impact on health, despite the surging price points over the last couple years and despite the continued expansion of menu choices and prepared food options at both foodservice and retail, beef continues to be not just the meat of choice — it never lost that status — but the entrée of choice for millions of Americans.
And we don’t need a voluminous USDA report to confirm that data.
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator