CONSUMERS HAVE HIGH EXPECTATIONS

The Cattlemen's College session on “Trends and Trendsetters” at the annual Cattle Industry Convention in Denver didn't feature crystal balls or palm readers, just experts from various sectors in the beef business.

Consumers are going back to the basics. They want high-quality, a personal connection, choices, value and their own way.

That's according to Kim Essex, senior vice president for consumer marketing for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

“Woe to the company that can't deliver what we want, when we want it,” she said. “It's very important in the beef industry that we don't fall into a commodity mindset.”

The retailer, restaurateurs and packer on the seminar panel said their successes are a direct reflection of serving customer needs.

Art Wagner, vice president of cattle procurement for National Beef Packing Co., said that business model has led to carrying a variety of programs, including the Certified Angus Beef ® (CAB®) brand.

“We recognize the value of the brand,” he said. “It helps us to differentiate ourselves to our customers and meet their needs.”

Longhorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Red Lobster and Olive Garden—all owned by Darden—also try to standout on the basis of atmosphere, quality and value.

Jeff Spotz, Darden Restaurants vice president for meats, commodity and risk management, and purchasing, said customers expect a selection of quality steaks, perfectly seasoned and expertly grilled.

“A Choice steak doesn't always eat the same,” he said. “If we find a way to deliver the same eating experience the whole time that would be a huge competitive advantage.”

At Buehler's Fresh Foods, a CAB-licensed retail chain based in Wooster, Ohio, customers come to the store expecting good beef, every time.

“Buehler's success is hinged on quality,” said Dave Savidge, director of meat merchandising. He shared the company's latest move to feature CAB Prime Natural.

“Customers are willing to pay more for that,” he said. “As it grows, who is going to supply that food chain? I think it's a trend worth considering.”

He expects premium grinds to make up a big portion of their growth in 2011, noting that half of the chain's CAB Prime Natural sales last year were grinds.

Tom Ryan, founder and CEO of Smashburger, is capitalizing on Americans' preference for a “better burger.”

“That category is going to grow at 10 percent,” he said, compared to three percent overall in the $100-billion burger market. “Our goal is to lead the pack and set a new standard.”

The CAB-licensed chain started three years ago with 10 stores. Now at 179, its growth pattern rivals that of many fast-food icons, like McDonalds. One big difference is the premium quality beef.

“There is something really magic about CAB and our flat grill,” Ryan said, describing the process of putting the burger on a hot grill, covering it with parchment paper and smashing it.

About 55 percent of their diners come in for lunch and 45 percent for supper, which is unusual for their type of restaurant, he said. Typically lunch makes up a larger majority of the business.

“Smashburger and others like us are putting burgers back in people's lives,” Ryan said.







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