Shoppers seek local beef, but grading info needed

Beef is king at the Canadian meat counter, according to retailers who talked to a University of Guelph demographic scientist in a recent survey.

Tanya Mark surveyed meat managers and operators in seven grocery store chains in Eastern and Western Canada to gauge their attitudes toward beef and sales approaches.

She told Lethbridge area cattle feeders Jan. 25 that chicken is the biggest threat to beef’s throne. Poultry tends to outsell beef when retailers feature it, she added.

Retailers told Mark that their customers see chicken as a lean protein choice with more preparation options and better opportunity for portion control.

Retailers are moving to full service meat counters to provide “meal solutions” and gourmet offerings.

Only five to 15 percent of beef is now sold through full-service meat counters, she said. Shoppers who do buy at the counter are more “finicky” than other consumers and like to choose the size of the cut they buy.

Mark noted the following consumption trends among Canadians:

  • growing preference for vegetables
  • desire for smaller beef portions
  • more interest in fusion-style meals such as stir fry
  • Chinese immigrant preference for fish and chicken
  • desire for greater food convenience and simplicity

Mark said Canadians prefer “local” beef. Alberta beef is the overwhelming favourite in Western Canada, while Eastern Canada identifies with Ontario beef.

The market for natural, hormone-free and grass-fed beef is small, at less than two percent of sales, Mark said. Some retailers said it’s not worth the effort to stock this type of product.

However, certified organic beef does have a small but steady de-mand. Retailers said consumer education is needed because confusion remains about the grading system, and people are unable to tell a good steak from a poorer one just by looking at it.

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