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Time to Grill

       We hope it will warm up so Americans can get to grilling more beef and lamb. As in recent columns, I have been worried about the price of beef getting too high, and the problem is, only the consumer knows the answer. 

In the last couple of weeks, we have read stories about beef prices, and the titles kind of scared me. Some of them were, “Beef demand is soft in kickoff to summer grilling season,” “Beef eaters can brace for sticker shock this summer,” and “Pricey beef puts heat on U.S. grilling season.” Those are not welcome words for America’s beef producers. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, “Higher beef prices are pinching food budgets for consumers already wrestling with a rise in gasoline prices, the expiration of the federal payroll-tax holiday and stubbornly high unemployment. They’re also expected to drive consumers to other meats after the holiday weekend, one of the biggest beef-sales periods of the year.”

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association says that Memorial Day week is typically the third highest for weekly beef sales, after the Fourth of July and Labor Day holiday weekends. 

Beef Magazine claims that last year, Americans spent $288.40 per person on beef, a 4.2 percent increase from $276.80 in 2011 thanks to rising retail prices. U.S. beef sales reached $90.6 billion last year, up from $86.4 billion in 2011. What that means is beef consumption has dropped down, but beef prices has went up that much and there lies the risk.

The Wall Street Journal said, “Consumers have been fickle about beef this year, in the first quarter of 2012, beef sales volumes fell 1.7 percent from a year earlier at 18,000 grocery stores, supermarkets and other retail outlets tracked by market-research firm Nielsen Co. In contrast, pork volumes rose 3.1 percent and chicken volumes were flat.” 

Even some fast food chains have dropped some hamburgers and added more chicken items. 

The Wall Street Journal also said, “Still, expectations for weaker beef demand are evident in the 414 billion cattle futures market, where many traders and investors are betting that consumers will lose their taste of beef after the Memorial Day weekend. Futures prices for live, slaughter-ready cattle have tumbled 10 percent since hitting a record $1.3485 per pound on Jan. 3.” The good part is that consumers will never lose their taste for beef, especially hamburgers, but because of the price, they will be more selective on the times they eat beef. People say, “If I want a hamburger, I want a hamburger or a good steak.” The trouble is, they just won’t say it as much.

As I see it, it is up to us as producers, and of course those involved in the beef checkoff, to help the consumer buy cheaper cuts of beef and educate them on how to prepare and cook them. The nutritional value of cheaper cuts of beef and lamb are the same as the expensive ones. Most consumers are plain scared and confused at the meat counter. The challenge is how do we educate them? It doesn’t matter what country the meat product came from, if they don’t know how to cook it, they will not buy it.