Dining out demands higher quality beef

NASHVILLE - Paul Heinrich, of SYSCO Corp., the nation’s largest foodservice distributor, said consumers have changed much since the company started in 1970. “Most women did not work outside the home then, whereas now two-thirds do; they have more money and less time to cook,”
calendar icon 24 May 2002
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Heinrich spoke to producers at Pfizer Cattlemen’s College during the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association convention in Nashville, Tenn.

Consumers spent 14% of their income on food in 1970, compared to just 11% now. However, the price of beef has increased rapidly in recent years, Heinrich said, presenting market research on all segments of demand from “aging Baby Boomers” to “Generations X and Y.” All are influenced somewhat by perceptions over science, and that’s one reason he expects “Natural” beef to increase from its current 1% market share to more than 5% in the near future.

Naturally, people think of dining out as a pleasurable experience. The leading obstacle to further growth in restaurant business is cost of meals, Heinrich said. High quality beef can overcome that, he added. “We have to continue to romance the customer and eliminate the cost concern so their taste buds rule. We do that by eliminating doubt.

“That means we have to increase overall palatability and quality grade of beef. We need tenderness scoring to more accurately predict the eating experience, and to make cooking failproof,” he said.

Working women are more likely to buy “take-out” meals, Heinrich said. When those include beef, restaurant cooks and chefs know they must undercook slightly. “There is very little well-done business in take-out,” he said. “Beef quality has to stand up to the reheating.” Whether dining in or taking out a beef entrée, “businesses lose money and customers when they cut corners on beef quality,” Heinrich said. The foodservice industry has grown to nearly $500 billion in annual business, but there is risk: “In 2005, for the first time, there were more businesses closing than new ones opening,” he said.

Addressing producers directly, Heinrich called for stepped up efforts to avoid Standard and No-Roll carcasses in the beef supply. He also called for more uniformity. “It’s hard to cut a consistent 8-ounce steak when there is more than 300 pounds difference in carcass sizes,” he said.

He called for more cooperative production chains from ranch to restaurant, “where everyone agrees on the product, how to produce and how to maintain a positive margin for all parties. That will build our businesses and reduce inefficiency.”

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