Consumer Preferences for Amount and Type of Fat in Ground Beef

By Lusk, Jayson L.; Parker, Natalie | Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, April 2009 | Go to article overview

Consumer Preferences for Amount and Type of Fat in Ground Beef


Lusk, Jayson L., Parker, Natalie, Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics


Scientists and beef industry participants are investigating ways to improve the healthiness of beef. We report results of a nationwide mail survey developed to determine consumers' preferences for fat content in ground beef and identify how consumers would most like to improve the healthiness of beef. The results from a choice-based conjoint experiment indicate that consumers place significant value on reducing saturated fat and the Omega 6:3 ratio in ground beef, but were relatively unconcerned about conjugated linoleic acid. The relatively new method of best-worst scaling was used to further identify which methods consumers most preferred producers use to improve fat content in beef. The results indicate consumers preferred feeding cattle a grass-fed diet as opposed to supplementing cattle feed with fishmeal or flaxseed to improve the fatty acid content in beef. Although consumers were receptive to the idea of using genetic testing to breed only those cattle with improved fatty acid content, using cloning to achieve this end, was viewed as very undesirable.

Key Words: beef, best-worst scaling, cloning, conjoint, fat, maximum-difference scaling, omega 3 fatty acid

JEL Classifications: M31, Q13

Although beef demand has been on the rise in recent years (see Mintert), participants in the beef industry are continually interested in im- proving the competitive position of beef rela- tive to other protein sources. One area where beef has faced a competitive disadvantage rel- ative to pork and especially poultry is in regards to fat and cholesterol content. Several studies have linked beef demand to health concerns and fat content. For example, Boetel and Liu (p. 324) found "increased food health concerns for fat and cholesterol have resulted in a 6% re- duction in the consumption of beef per capita per quarter since 1987, and an 18% increase in the poultry consumption." Kinnucan et al. also found that health information related to cholesterol had a significantly larger effect than relative price elasticities and advertising on beef demand. They found that health information greatly benefited poultry and harmed beef demand while leaving demand for pork and fish unaffected. There is also some evidence from Europe that television publicity had a negative impact on expenditures for beef (Verbeke and Ward). Furthermore, Ward has found that households with higher stated levels of concern for fat and cholesterol consume significantly less beef than households with lower fat and cholesterol concerns.

To counteract the negative health perception associated with beef, steps are being taken to find ways to improve the amount and type of fat in beef by increasing levels of omega 3 fatty acid and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) while reducing saturated fat. The goal is to create a "heart healthy" beef product. Scientists and beef industry participants have at their disposal several avenues to improve fat content in beef including altering feeding methods to include grass or fish meal, selective breeding to creating genetic stock with healthier fat profiles either through traditional methods or by cloning, or simply by offering premiums and discounts in the current market for fat profiles that are more desirable. Improving the fat content may be one way to improve the competitiveness of beef relative to poultry and pork.

Of course, improving the fat content of beef is costly, and as such, producers are in need of information to determine whether the benefits of improving fat content exceed the costs. Indeed, producers have a multitude of opportunities to improve beef demand, and it is important to determine how the demand for fat and fat content compares to demand for other beef attributes. The purpose of this research is to determine consumers' willingness to pay for beef with improved fat content, to determine how consumers prefer the fat content of beef be improved, and finally to determine the importance of fat content in beef relative to other beef attributes. …

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Consumer Preferences for Amount and Type of Fat in Ground Beef
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