Beef: CLA Rich?

CANADA - Cross Canada in-store survey gauges prospects for 'CLA rich' beef, says a report by The CLA Network. Hot on the heels of success with omega-3 fatty acids and other natural, health-based innovations for livestock products, researchers are beginning to test the market waters for potential "CLA rich" beef products.
calendar icon 19 April 2007
clock icon 4 minute read

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) is a type of healthy fatty acid already found naturally in beef and dairy products. CLA research is in early stages and more studies are needed to confirm specific CLA health benefits for humans. However, early studies based largely on animal models indicate that CLA may help fight or prevent diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease. CLA may also help battle obesity and improve bone density.

The CLA Network is further exploring the health benefits of CLA and laying the groundwork for potential beef and dairy products that feature increased levels of this natural component.

To help drive this progress, the CLA Network conducted an in-store survey of 800 consumers in Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto and Quebec City. Newly released results and analysis of the survey have unveiled consumer perceptions that will help direct development and marketing strategies for potential CLA rich beef products.

"This survey was about testing the waters," says Dr. Sean Cash, an agricultural economist at the University of Alberta who led the effort. "Because beef products with enhanced CLA levels are not yet available, we can't simply examine purchasing behaviour. But the survey gives us an indication of how these products may be accepted and what product development and marketing approaches are likely to be most successful."

Studies have confirmed that beef and dairy products contain natural CLA, and these natural levels may be increased substantially through simple livestock production approaches such as using more pasture feed and oils or oilseeds in cattle diets.

"CLA is showing great potential as a basis for new 'functional food' beef products," says Cash. A functional food is defined as any food that has demonstrated physiological benefits or reduces the risk of chronic disease beyond what are considered normal nutritional functions. Functional foods represent one of the fastest growing food categories worldwide, with omega-3 enhanced dairy and poultry products a leading example of success for this category in the livestock product sector.

To gauge consumer interest in potential CLA rich beef products, Cash and colleagues developed a computer-based in-store survey, designed to be consumer friendly and limit bias. One component of this survey included a computer simulation of a shopping experience, asking consumers to make selections on ground beef based on different variables such as price, color, fat level and CLA content label.

In one key finding, survey results indicated a preference for the label "Rich in CLA" compared to the label "CLA enhanced." "It may be that the term 'rich' is a better fit with attractiveness of CLA as a natural component, while 'enhanced' may seem too artificial," says Cash.

Survey respondents also showed a strong willingness to pay a premium for CLA rich beef products compared to normal beef products. This included a willingness to pay a premium from $2.83/ kg to $2.96/kg for a "CLA-enhanced" label and a premium from $3.29/kg to $3.97/kg for a "Rich in CLA" label.

"While the specific numbers may not exactly represent future market premiums for these types of products, the main thing is that the results show a clear willingness to pay more," says Cash. "Those most willing to pay more included shoppers at higher end grocery specialty stores, shoppers with children, label readers and those with health concerns."

Among consumers most interested in buying beef with higher CLA content were regular beef eaters, regular label readers, consumers who find product claims credible and consumers who say food safety is important. "The food safety connection was interesting since we didn't directly tie CLA products to food safety in our information," says Cash. "This may be a crossover in positive association related to the enhanced positive health image of the product."

More detailed information and analysis on the survey results is available in a new article available on the Web, at Founded in 2001, the CLA Network is a collaborative team focused on harvesting the health potential of CLA. It includes members from academia, industry and government, from many areas of expertise such as research, food industry, health and communications.

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