Photo courtesy of Kansas State UniversityMANHATTAN — Kansas State University meat scientists have found that the brand name on grocery store beef makes a difference to consumers when it hits the dinner plate.
Taste tests conducted on the Manhattan campus found that consumers rated steak and ground beef products higher for flavor, texture, juiciness, tenderness, and overall liking when the packaging included the terms "certified Angus beef," "Angus," or "USDA prime."
No improvement was found in how the same consumers rated steak and ground beef when it included the terms USDA choice or USDA select.
"It's not just that you're putting a name on the product, but putting the right name on the product seems to make a difference to consumers," said Travis O'Quinn, an assistant professor of meat science.
"When consumers perceive a certain quality associated with those brands, that value is going to transfer all the way to their end-product eating experience."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported in 2015 that there are close to 100 brands approved for marketing beef in the United States. A recent audit indicated that 98 percent of all beef sold in grocery stores is under some form of branding.
Consumers who participated in Kansas State University's taste tests were given a product without any name associated to it. In a second round of tasting, they received the exact same steak, but were given the brand name or USDA quality grade associated with the product.
In these studies, certified Angus beef seems to be highly preferred by consumers, O'Quinn said. Ratings for certified Angus beef steak rated 14 percent higher for juiciness, 15 percent higher for flavor, and 10 percent higher for overall liking.
Certified Angus ground beef sirloin was 37 percent higher for juiciness, 23 percent higher for flavor, and 25 percent higher for overall liking. Other ground beef products, however, did not receive significantly higher ratings from consumers based on brand.
A major discrepancy occurred in consumers' ratings of two similar brands. Products labeled Angus select commonly experienced a 13 percent improvement in tenderness over the control test, while products labeled USDA select were rated 10 percent lower.
"The only difference in the product we served was that in one we included the word Angus," O'Quinn said.
"This is good information as the industry moves forward with marketing decisions based on how to correctly sell beef to consumers," he said. "We are going to continue to see an increase in the popularity of branded beef products. People are very loyal to brands, and that holds true in the beef market, as well."
O'Quinn noted that restaurants and other retailers may benefit from the studies.
"If you own a white tablecloth restaurant, making sure your consumers understand that this is a prime product you're serving will pay big dividends," he said. "If you're selling a certified Angus beef or prime product, you should get extra bang for the buck just by making sure consumers know what you're serving."
Another finding indicated that the percentage of fat in ground beef did not affect consumers' perception of the quality of that product.
O'Quinn said the original study focused on consumers in Manhattan, Kansas, an area well known for raising beef cattle. Future studies may focus on differences in how consumers in other parts of the country rate branded beef for the qualities tested.
The studies were presented during the university's 2016 Cattleman's Day. The full reports can be found online at http://newprairiepress.org/kaesrr/vol2/iss1.