Lean, green Aussie beef could fill US consumer niche: ICMJ
Australian beef producers and processors have an opportunity to fill a niche in the changing demands of consumers in the United States, who are seeking healthier and more environmentally friendly protein sources, a report found.
Australian Intercollegiate Meat Judging (ICMJ) team member Kieran Smith toured the US in January for a series of training events and competitions, and took the opportunity to investigate the US supply chain’s response to changing consumer expectations and the emergence of ‘fake meats’.
He identified an opportunity for Australian meat exporters, who sell large volumes of beef into the US burger trade, to differentiate their product by further promoting natural advantages such as the leaner qualities of Australian burger beef and the fact that it is largely sourced from grass-fed production systems.
Smith said in the report that recent consumer trends have been skewed towards healthier products, an increasing awareness of the environmental impacts of food, a demand for fresh products, and a growing amount of labelling and branding of products.
“Alternative protein burgers are marketed as being healthier, better for the environment, and produced with a smaller environmental footprint than conventional red meat agricultural enterprises. These alternative protein burgers have the potential to affect the demand for Australian lean meat,” he said.
In his post-tour report to industry, Smith said that despite the US being the world’s largest beef producer — turning out 12.4 million tonnes in 2019 from a national herd of 98.4 million head — it was also one of the biggest importers of beef sourced mostly from Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
“Around two-thirds of beef imported into the US from Australia is 90–95% chemical lean (CL), primarily for use in ground beef products such as burgers, to dilute excess amounts of domestic fatty trim produced by the lot-fed cattle industry,” Smith said.
“In a consumer palatability rating study, when 90CL ground beef patties were compared to 80CL ground beef patties in a blind taste test, there was no significant difference found in overall liking of the product.
“Hence, having a leaner burger will likely not affect the overall eating experience, with the addition of the consumer knowing they have made a healthier purchasing decision.
“This could provide an opportunity for the Australian beef industry to export higher quantities of 90–95CL beef to the USA for burger manufacturing.”
This point of difference could be further emphasised with promotion of the fact that grass-fed beef has less saturated fat and higher levels of essential omega 3 fatty acids.
“There is a limited capacity for many beef operations within the USA to produce economical viable grass-fed products. Therefore, Australia is in a strong position to meet the growing demand for grass-fed beef products in the USA,” Smith said.
The ICMJ US tour was conducted to enthuse and educate future industry leaders.
The tour conducted in January 2020 spanned four weeks, seven states, two intercollegiate competitions and more than 50 industry experiences, exposing participants to the broad spectrum of the US red meat supply chain.
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