Beef still consumers’ top choice for burgers
A study warns the beef industry to watch the shift of next-gen consumer diets to plant protein.
Researchers compared consumption of beef to plant-based protein alternatives and found consumers of both will pay more to support their lifestyle choice.
According to a recent study from Kansas State University, consumers who regularly eat beef said they are willing to pay nearly $2 more per meal for a burger made from cattle, rather than plant-based protein, when dining at a restaurant. But, the same study notes, those who have turned to plant-based protein alternatives are equally passionate, saying they would be willing to pay $1.48 more per meal.
Those are among the key findings released by K-State agricultural economists Glynn Tonsor and Ted Schroeder in the study “Impact of New Plant-Based Protein Alternatives on U.S. Beef Demand” for the Beef Checkoff. The study was co-authored by Jayson Lusk, a distinguished professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University.
“Beef has what we call a good image, and we document it as a good image throughout the report,” Tonsor says. “We’ve looked at a litany of questions — such as how does beef compare to plant-based proteins on a lot of dimensions, such as taste, safety, price, nutritional content, protein, iron —and even on whether it’s good for farmers, the planet and consumers.”
The nationwide study involved more than 3,000 consumers who represented the population of the country. Nearly 70% of respondents identified themselves as regular meat consumers, those who regularly eat meat or food from animals, while the remainder identified with such alternative diets as vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian or other.
Difference in spending
Tonsor says regular meat consumers reported being willing to pay $1.87 more per meal for a beef burger in a restaurant. They also would pay up to 29 cents more per pound for store-brand, 80% lean ground beef at the grocery store.
Those who prefer alternative diets would pay $1.48 more per meal in a restaurant, but were really willing to put their money where their mouth is and pay up to $2.32 per pound more in the grocery store.
“There’s a big preference among regular meat consumers today for the beef burger, and there’s a strong preference among the alternative diet folks for those newly offered items,” Tonsor says.
Beef still wins
But the number of consumers choosing beef over plant-based alternatives is clearly in favor of the beef industry. The report notes that beef is consumed three times more often than plant-based proteins in the U.S.
Among the factors influencing consumers’ choices are that they consider the taste, safety and price of beef to be more appealing. “Those are key differentiation points we see in this study and have seen in several studies,” Tonsor says. “Taste and safety, in particular, are key drivers of U.S. beef demand.
“The protein market is immensely competitive, both from existing and new products being introduced,” he adds. “At the same time, global protein demand is strong and growing. The U.S. beef industry produces a high-quality, tasty, safe, nutritious, healthy, and affordable product in an increasingly sustainable way. Capitalizing on what the industry does well while continuously striving to do it better is the best advice we can provide to compete in the evolving global protein market.”
While the report found that the threat from plant-based protein to the beef industry is small right now, it could change moving forward.
The younger generation is the driver of the plant-based sector. The study found this type of culinary lifestyle appeals to this group because they are more focused on health, particularly fat content and environmental concerns. In addition, this group has the financial backing to support the higher-priced plant-based system.
This age segment is likely to have a college education and growing income. It’s also more likely to have children at home and look to provide them with plant-based options. All these factors line up to a more favorable demand for plant-based protein.
The study warns that if plant-based protein price declines and the product is viewed more favorably by consumers in taste and appearance, it could become a stronger substitute for beef. It’s worth noting that it may be a consumer group to watch.
Read the full study and an executive summary.