ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- These days, beef drivers are not a dust-covered, lasso-wielding cowboys on the Great Plains. They are basic selling techniques the beef industry must use to halt and reverse declining consumption.
According to a Beef Demand Study Report by the Cattleman's Beef Promotion and Research Board here demand for beef fell by more than 48% between 1980 and 1997. The decline was calculated using an index consisting of U.S. Department of Agriculture data for per capita retail weight consumption, the USDA Choice retail price and a consumer price index that adjusts for inflation.
"We have been losing 2% to 3% of demand per year since 1980," said Paul Genho, a cow/calf producer from Kingsville, Texas, and chairman of the Beef Board Evaluation Committee, which spearheaded the study. "It looks like it's moved sideways this year. That's pretty remarkable considering what pork has done this year -- the giveaway pork prices."
In a consolidated effort to stabilize demand by the year 2001, the study group concluded that the industry must focus on five factors, or "drivers": food safety, palatability, health and nutrition, consumer-friendly products and cost, price and perceived value.
"Demand is not going to be cured by the cow/calf guy, or by the grocers, or by the packers alone," said Genho. "It's basically going to take effort by the entire industry."
Age, household income, education, employment and related consumer demographics have played a large role in declining demand over the past 20 years, the study group concluded. It also found that concerns regarding health issues had a negative effect on demand.
According to Genho, retailers can't change demographic makeup, but they can respond in other ways, using advertising, promotions and new product development to spur sales. He said they must further merchandise their products by emphasizing packaging, size, appearance, convenience and by adding cooking and nutritional information.
Another area retailers must concentrate on is improving their selection of products in relation to market area and customer base, he said.
For example, he noted that one Texas-based chain is addressing demographic issues by targeting their products to ethnic groups. He said with its more upscale Houston-area locations, the product mix greatly differs from the product offerings in its Southern Texas units, which are located near the Mexico border.
"They are having double-digit increases in beef sales," he said, indicating differential buying for these areas as the core reason behind the growth.
He said the same thing would hold true for a supermarket chain in Central Florida. "You face the fact that you're going to have a retired population, and you fill your cases with different products [targeted at them]," he said.
One effort intended to help retailers market their meat products is contained on CBPRB's homepage. Under the site's retail section, retailers can go in and download a number POP materials including rail strips and product images.
Also housed on the site is a section dedicated to the development of recipe ideas. Here, retailers can download additional images, as well the retail cards themselves. For some of the non-downloadable items, such as the on-pack stickers, retailers can place orders for the corresponding material they need.
To further nurture relations with processors, some retailers can review the CBPRB's latest 1998 annual report titled, "My Dollar Did It." The report, which covers the last two fiscal years, talks about the interaction processors have with the retail channel.
In it, there's a section reporting on promotional efforts between processors and retailers, including new product development and consumer advertising. It also contains reviews on a number of research studies conducted to further examine food-borne illness, as well as updates on already-published information, such as recipe development.
"[Retailers] have the opportunity to influence demand and help their sales substantially, as well as help the whole industry," said Genho.