Despite recent recalls, U.S. attitudes about safety and nutrition improve

By TIM HEARDEN

Capital Press

Consumers' attitudes about beef continued to improve this summer despite occasional reports of recalls because of potentially tainted meat, an industry study asserts.

The study, called the Consumer Beef Index, consisted of interviews with more than 1,000 people age 13 to 65 to track changes in consumer attitudes and to guide industry advertising messages.

The survey found that beef is becoming almost as popular as chicken for people who want protein in their diets, and that slightly more people are comfortable with its safety than in a survey last winter.

"People believe that beef is safe," said Melissa Slagle, a spokeswoman for the Cattlemen's Beef Board.

"The reason for doing the study is it gives us a good picture of the environment out there. That really helps direct all the program areas funded by the Beef Checkoff," Slagle said. "Advertisers can look at the results of the survey and see that it's really important that consumers hear the nutrition message ... so they can develop the program methodology and messaging."

The survey's results come as the JBS Swift Beef Co. has recalled about 420,000 pounds of meat this year and nearly 30 people in three states reported illnesses last month that were tied to recalled ground beef that may have been tainted with salmonella.

Slagle said several questions about safety were asked in the survey, and "the numbers moved up a bit" from the previous questionnaire.

The surveys have been done since 2006 to guide the checkoff program, which assesses $1 per head on the sale of domestic and imported cattle. States keep up to 50 cents of each dollar and forward the rest to the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board.

According to the July report's executive summary, consumers showed more positive perceptions of beef's taste, protein content, value and taste-to-nutrition ratio. Thirty percent of respondents were classified as strongly positive about beef, up from 26 percent in the summer of 2007.

Of the 43 percent who are somewhat enthusiastic about beef, weekly servings and overall perception have recovered from recent softening, the summary states.

Even those who are considered to have strongly negative attitudes about beef doubled their weekly usage over the past year, from 0.7 to 1.7 servings.

Beef has closed its gap with chicken as a "top choice" among consumers, with 80 percent of people identifying poultry as one of their favorite foods and 72 percent identifying beef.

Beef actually leads chicken in terms of perceptions about its high protein content, taste and lasting satisfaction, the survey found.

The previous survey gave the checkoff program the idea of touting middle meats to price-conscious consumers this summer, Slagle said.

"We wanted to communicate to them that you can still have a good steak meal at home and it maybe will not cost as much as you think," she said.

Staff writer Tim Hearden is based in Shasta Lake, Calif. E-mail: thearden@capitalpress.com.

 

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