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Are We Heading to a (Mostly) Meatless Monday?

Sept. 12, 2014
Rising meat prices give consumers another reason to seek other protein-rich foods or to substitute white meat for red.

The average price of ground beef hit an all-time high of $3.84 a pound last month. Cattle stocks are currently at an all-time low. Pork futures underwent a 39.2 percent increase from February through mid-July, and a recent moderation in hog prices won’t impact consumer prices for months.

Most forecasts – both weather and commodities – offer little hope for relief. USDA predicts that meat, poultry and fish prices will climb 5 percent in the next year, and maybe higher.

Consumers have already found reasons eat less meat; they point to nutritional concerns and animal welfare issues, as well as the growing desire to eat lower on the food chain as a way to soften their impact on the environment. If Meatless Mondays also help substantially lighten the grocery bill, flexitarians might begin to consider meatless Tuesdays or Wednesdays too.

With beef prices hard to swallow, Butterball Turkey Co., Kings Mountain, N.C., recently ratcheted up promotions of ground turkey as a substitute for ground beef – offering less cholesterol and saturated fat, all at a competitive price.

“As beef prices skyrocket, foodservice operators are increasingly being forced to either raise their prices or find alternatives,” says Richie Jenkins, Butterball Foodservice’s senior director of marketing. “Our versatile ground turkey provides an opportunity for chefs to use their creativity and enhance their menus in a way that allows them to satisfy their customers’ need for delicious food, healthy options and wallet-friendly meals.”

Red meat slowing

According to a recent report from Mintel (Red Meat, September 2013), dollar sales of red meat have been trending upward since 2008, growing 9 percent from 2008 to 2013 to reach $53.1 billion. But Mintel says escalating prices are moving the needle more than consumer interest and that “inflation-adjusted prices show a stagnant market.”

Moving forward, the market is expected to continue to be challenged by consumers turning away from red meat for what is perceived to be healthier and less-expensive alternatives. Category sales between 2013 and 2018 should grow 3 percent at current prices, reaching $54.7 billion in total sales. But they will contract 8 percent in inflation-adjusted terms over the same period.

So where will those protein-craving folks turn? Well, Butterball may be on to something. Mintel’s November 2013 Poultry Report indicates that poultry grew by more than 7 percent in 2013 after two years of minimal growth that was brought about by – you guessed it – high prices.

Mintel predicts the category will reach sales of nearly $40 billion in 2018, an increase of 22 percent from 2013-2018. “Future sales growth is likely to be fueled by healthy eating trends as the American obesity epidemic continues to play a major role in consumer food selection,” the reports note.

Jenkins says ground turkey or turkey cuts make an easy replacement for beef or can work in combination. Either way, cost savings and a better nutritional label can be part of the result.

“Foodservice is probably catching up with retail when it comes to ground turkey,” Jenkins says. “Home cooks have used it in gravies and spaghetti sauces and casseroles for some time, and now we are seeing that in restaurants. Certainly there are meatloaf blends that include both turkey and beef.”

Grinding techniques and meat selection also contribute to the ability of turkey to emulate beef, he says.

Whether it’s a chain of restaurants or a frozen food manufacturer sourcing meat for a menu item, cost must be considered, but cost advantages do not last forever, Jenkins says. “The cost benefit analysis is always part of the equation,” he says. “There is a risk (in putting too much emphasis on cost). Our cost is driven by the price of grain, and there are no secrets about that.”

Jennie-O Turkey Store (a business unit of Hormel Foods) also is capitalizing on the white-for-red switch. In time for summer grilling, Jennie-O introduced Turkey Breast Steaks and Jalapeño Jack Turkey Burgers.

“These new grilling products address consumers’ evolving cooking preferences. In order to eat more nutritiously, 90 percent of Americans are choosing lean cuts of meat, while 82 percent are limiting second helpings. Consumers are also adding more flavor to their meats, with 85 percent preparing marinated meats and poultry on a regular basis, according to The Power of Meat survey by the American Meat Institute and the Food Marketing Institute. Marinated meats and poultry also fit with the increased popularity of highly flavorful foods, including ethnic dishes using a variety of seasonings.”

Calling the first product “a new twist on grilled steak,” the Turkey Breast Steaks come in plain (which can be marinated prior to cooking) or pre-seasoned with a garlic and red pepper spice blend. The “steaks” are available at retailers nationwide in sizes of 16-24 oz. for an average retail price of $7.99.

The Jalapeño Jack Turkey Burgers address the popularity of Southwest cuisine with jalapeño seasoning and Monterey Jack cheese. Each one-third-pound burger is individually vacuum-sealed for freshness. They’re sold in packages of six at a suggested retail price of $9.99.

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