Monday, September 17, 2012

The Marketing of Beef

How does muscle become marketable meat?

In "The Art of Living According to Joe Beef: A cookbook of sorts" the owner relays a story about beef.  The restaurant is proud to serve local products and when their 'Alberta Beef' is revealed as Australian heads role.  While a good restaurant story, a key question emerges from a marketing perspective:  How did Australian beef go from obscurity to being served as a unique product at one of Montreal's best restaurants?

In the last century, beef, as a category, has gone from the tragic world of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle to specialty breeds like wagyu that command a significant price premium. This journey started as a means of protecting consumers when the US passed the Meat Inspection Act over 100 years ago.

Today, the processing of the muscle into meat has to meet minimum requirements which includes on-site inspectors and voluntary grading. The high fixed cost of inspection and the creation of minimum standards has led to an industry focused on supply chain and cost efficiency as a means of producing as much acceptable beef as possible.  There has been little in the way of differentiation until recently with the rise of ranch brands - often based on how the cattle are treated and fed rather than the meat itself.

Australia took another path to market.  While they have stringent quality control, they also focus a lot on consumer preferences.  In fact they have an Eating Quality Assurance program that strives to understand what consumers want to experience when eating meat.  An ethereal quality like tenderness can't be reduced to a formula based on age and marbling (although it can be measured by sheer force).  The other preferences they focus on include juiciness, flavor and overall liking.  

It is likely that it is consumer focus (and its 1,000,000 interviews) more than hard rules that has helped Australia become a major exporter of beef.

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