Outside Insights | May 2017 | By Guest Author

The Argument for Grass-Fed Beef

Why this fast-growing trend could become the new prime choice for restaurants.
What kind of steak do consumers really want? That question isn't as easy to answer as it once was. Thinkstock
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One of the most visible food trends of 2017 is consumers’ preference for a higher quality, grass-fed beef. Our studies found that the higher the education level completed (college and above), the greater the preference for grass-fed beef among consumers. The highly educated account for the majority of revenue generated in quality meats. And with most Americans eating beef two to three times a week or more, it’s a trend that’s making restaurateurs and grocers take notice.

USDA Prime steaks have long been the pinnacle of beef. USDA Prime is a superior grade with tenderness, juiciness, flavor, texture, and the highest degree of fat marbling derived from younger beef. That's why Prime is generally featured at the most exclusive, upscale steakhouses and restaurants. 

Grass-fed beef, when raised consistently, has all of the same qualities except one—fat. Grass-fed beef contains less fat because the cows are only eating what they are supposed to eat, which is grass. No corn, grain, or sugar substitutes that make cows fat and upsets their stomachs. And the fat that grass-fed beef has is actually loaded with nutrients not found in traditional feedlot cattle.

The beef supply industry has underserviced the grass-fed beef demand because producing it is not as efficient as feedlot programs. But consumers are informed and in spite of historical low supplies, they are seeking out grass-fed beef in record numbers. Per the National Restaurant Association, consumers and chefs report a strong interest in grass-fed beef—61 percent of chefs describe grass-fed beef as a hot trend, and more than a third of consumers would pay more for grass-fed beef.

And this demand is forecasted to go mainstream quite quickly. The National Restaurant Association also projects that grass-fed beef will outpace other beef on menus in just four years, with an expected 189 percent growth rate. Consumers now recognize and seek out American Grassfed Association certification, particularly since the USDA does not have a grass-fed certification.

Why this burgeoning interest in higher quality beef? It’s in line with the overall demand for fresh, local, and healthy foods. The North American Meat Institute research found that most consumers, when considering fresh meat and poultry, consider transparency on the use of hormones, antibiotics and GMO ingredients and meat traceability somewhat or very important. And a clear majority of consumers are somewhat or very interested in meats that are raised/produced in the U.S. and if possible more locally to their state or region, are antibiotic-free, grass-fed, and non-GMO.

This trend is also the result of consumers continuing to become more sophisticated about their health and dietary choices overall. Half of consumers now report regularly choosing leaner cuts of meat. And most consumers report occasionally or regularly limiting second helpings, cutting down on portion sizes and choosing cholesterol-free or low-cholesterol options.  

So, what should restaurants, chefs, and consumers expect from their grass-fed beef? It boasts a host of benefits over mass-produced feedlot beef. Grass-fed beef should have a traceable origin, from birth to harvest. The beef should be free of antibiotics and hormones. Grass-fed beef is also lower in fat and calories, but richer in vitamins, minerals, Omega-3s and CLAs, which reduce inflammation and have reduced cancer in lab tests. The beef will be raised in a healthier, free-range environment, which reduces disease and environmental waste. Additionally, grass-fed beef is most often raised by independent ranchers.

And with the consumers’ growing demand for quality meat, they have also shown a willingness to pay more for it, which translates to a demand and an opportunity for restaurateurs, grocers and butchers. The USDA publishes a monthly report on grass-fed beef prices, and it’s clear consumers are willing to pay significantly more for grass-fed beef over traditional beef.

Improved health and safety, better for businesses’ bottom lines and supportive of independent food producers: grass-fed beef is a trend worth watching in 2017 and well beyond.

Rodney Mason is the CEO of Nurture Ranch, purveyors of traceable, grass-fed beef and meats. Nurture Ranch is headquartered in the tall, lush dells of East Texas, and raises grass-fed beef in the better ways of yesteryear with no grain, antibiotics or hormones ever.