Beef Issues Quarterly Archive

Consumers find value in lean beef

Consumers find value in lean beef

by Rick McCarty, Vice President – Issues Analysis and Strategy – NCBA



Consumers love beef, but too often feel they should eat it less because of nutrition and health concerns. However, consumers place strong value on lean beef and this provides an avenue to emphasize beef’s healthfulness and position it as a good protein source with significant body benefits.

Survey research finds that consumers seem to have internalized the nutrition advice to choose lean cuts of meat. Research also shows that when buying meat, the top food shopping activity among consumers is to purchase lean cuts of meat.

Consumers also place high value on lean beef and feel it is better for them and lower in saturated fat, calories and cholesterol.

Consumers identified quality as the most important attribute when buying ground beef and steak, ranking it well above price, safety and nutrition. When asked to define quality, the primary hallmark of quality for both ground beef and steak was leanness/low fat.


A key industry priority is to emphasize beef's healthfulness and leanness and positively position it as a good protein source with significant body benefits. Nutrition concerns represent the biggest barrier to increased beef consumption but beef 's lean cuts can help overcome the "eat less red meat" message that consumers hear with increasing frequency.

Seventy percent of consumers say they are concerned about the fat and cholesterol in beef and feel there are healthier choices for protein, vitamins and minerals. However, lean protein is beef 's catalyst for improving nutrition perceptions and overcoming the fat concern barrier to consumption.


Previous research has shown that the word "lean" has significant power as a descriptor of beef. It helps overcome nutrition perception barriers and amplifies beef 's nutrient package. The objective of the current research was to understand consumer perceptions of, and preferences for, lean beef.

Two checkoff-funded studies were conducted as part of a "perceptions of lean" project. The first was an online survey of 981 adult beef eaters to determine perceptions of lean beef. The second was an online survey of 886 adult beef eaters who were primary shoppers or shared equally in food purchasing decisions to analyze the importance of quality versus other attributes when purchasing beef and to determine consumer definitions of quality.


When asked how often they bought certain types of food, the highest percentage of consumers (60%) said they bought lean cuts of meat "every time" or "frequently." In addition, consumers were asked how important it was to buy certain types of foods and, again, the highest percentage (69%) said buying lean cuts of meat was most important.

Strong majorities of consumers have favorable impressions of lean beef. While about threefourths (72%) think lean beef is more expensive, almost eight-in-10 (79%) say that lean beef is better for them than other kinds of beef. Consumers also value lean beef as lower in saturated fat (66%), having fewer calories (56%) and being lower in cholesterol (55%) than other beef. Survey respondents were asked how they determine leanness. Consumers rely on the percent lean/percent fat designation on ground beef labels to identify lean ground beef. When buying steaks, more than half look for the degree of marbling, look for lean on the label and look at the amount of fat trim around the edge of the cut.

Consumers also were asked to rank the importance of safety, price, quality and nutrition when they were buying ground beef and when they were buying steak. Quality was identified as the most important attribute for ground beef by 77 percent of consumers and by 81 percent of consumers for steak. Price was ranked second in importance followed by safety and nutrition.

Consumers who ranked quality either first or second in importance were asked, as an open ended question, what distinguishes quality ground beef and steak from other ground beef and steak. The most often mentioned attributes of quality related to leanness and less fat, especially for ground beef where 62 percent of respondents mentioned leanness as an indicator of quality. Freshness (23% of mentions) and appearance (18%) were the second and third ranked quality indicators for ground beef.

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For steak, more than one-third (35%) of respondents mentioned leanness as an indicator of quality followed by freshness (20%) and appearance (20%). U.S. Department of Agriculture certification/ grade, type of cut and marbling each also were mentioned by 16 percent of respondents as attributes indicating quality steak.

Production methods (natural, hormone free, antibiotic free, organic, locally raised) were mentioned as a ground beef quality indicator by only 11 percent of respondents and by 10 percent of respondents as a steak quality attribute.


The research shows that consumers value lean beef as being better for them and lower in saturated fat, cholesterol and calories. Building on this data, the industry will provide consumers with clear information about which cuts are lean and work to make lean beef more accessible and identifiable to consumers both at retail and foodservice. In addition, there will be a focus on educating channel partners and manufacturers on leveraging the value consumers find in lean beef.

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Tags: Beef Issues Quarterly, Research Findings, Spring 2010

June 30, 2010