Meat audit shows work needed on improving taste

Meat cases in Canada have less space devoted to beef than the U.S. and often carry only 22 different cuts and types of meat, compared to 59 in American supermarkets. | Getty photo

CALGARY — Juicy, tender and tasty are the benchmarks for good beef. A national meat case audit is designed to see whether the Canadian beef industry is delivering them.

Results show it is, although overall satisfaction varies.

“There’s only one reason to pay more than double for beef versus chicken and that’s the quality of the product. It’s the taste,” said Mark Klassen, technical services director for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

In the audit, more than 1,000 consumers from Alberta, Quebec and Ontario are provided with four types of steaks and asked to cook them as they normally would in their homes. They are then asked to rate juiciness, tenderness, flavour and overall eating quality.

In 2001, consumers rated tenderness at 68 percent. The rating rose to 76 percent in 2009 and then dropped to 73 percent in 2015.

The overall satisfaction rating went from 73 percent in 2001, to 80 in 2009 to 79 in 2015.

For objective data, the same range of steaks from the same stores was given a shear test to gauge tenderness. Results showed tenderness improved in the tougher cuts like crossrib and inside round but didn’t improve in strip loins and top sirloins.

Klassen speculated that the improvement in 2009 could be due to aging programs or mechanical tenderization at retail.

“I think it all comes down to the fact that if we want to improve satisfaction further, given that we have tenderness in a relatively good place, we’ll have to work on things like flavour.”

Meat case auditors also visited about 70 stores and looked at 21,000 packages of beef to see how product is being marketed.

They found that beef takes up an average 32.5 percent of the fresh meat case. In the United States, about 43 percent of the space is given to beef. As for variety, the average in Canada was 22 different cuts and types, while in the U.S. the figure is 59.

Klassen said American stores tend to be larger, with more available space, but that population also eats 56 pounds of beef per capita compared to Canada’s 40 lb.

About 50 percent of fresh beef packages are steak, 24 percent are ground, nine percent are roasts and seven percent are cubes, said Klassen.

There are very few prime grade steaks and roasts. About 39 percent of steaks and 33 percent of roasts bear the AAA grade or higher and more than half carry no grading information at all.

“It would be nice if, given the effort and investment that we make in grading, if some of those other grades could figure a bit larger into the value proposition,” Klassen said.

Cooking instructions were not common and production claims like no added hormones or certified humane were made on less than five percent of fresh beef packages.

Klassen said most label claims note the negative.

“It seems to me that most of the production claims are about telling consumers what we do not do, differentiating by a negative inference,” he said.

Claude Gravel, the former meat merchandising manager for Costco, said retailers need more consistency in beef quality, particularly on AAA beef, because much of the industry has moved to offer that grade.

In his past experience, Gravel said he had to buy American beef at times to ensure Costco had enough supply of higher beef grades. He also said the price spread between beef and other meats is uncomfortably wide for many consumers.

“Pork is so cheap right now compared to beef. If you have $20 and you have to shop and you’re a mom going to the store every week, what are you going to do? You’re going to buy a bucket of drumsticks at $15 or two steaks at 55 bucks?

“We have to stay competitive.”

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