BEEF doesn’t have to be as cheap as chicken or pork.
It is, after all, the king of proteins.
It does, however, have to be fit for purpose and that’s where all players of the supply chain should be focusing their flair and ingenuity.
These were the words of respected beef industry stalwart Greg Chappell, Glen Innes, who championed the concept of focusing on the consumer in an animated presentation at the Queensland Country Life Food Heroes event this week.
Held at the Angus family’s Kimberley Station near Moranbah in Central Queensland, the day attracted close to a hundred producers.
Mr Chappell, meat scientist, Angus breeder and foundation eating quality grading system researcher, began his talk with the presentation of an empty chair.
It was, he said, “for the person who is responsible for our being - the consumer.”
“When we first started with MSA (Meat Standards Australia), we had a vision that there is no other reason to produce beef other than to satisfy the consumer’s expectation for eating quality consistently in a price attractive way,” Mr Chappell said.
“If we don’t have people demanding and eating our product with more vigour than they currently are, we will suffer.
“Over the years it has been difficult to get producers to realise that trucks don’t eat beef.
“The last thing most producers do is shut the door on the truck when it leaves with their cattle so from their perspective that was the end of the line.
“The processors were the same - their deal was a box or carton ate the beef.
“The supermarkets thought the little refrigerator they put it in ate the beef.”
Things had come a long way from that thinking but there was still a lot of room to move, Mr Chappell believes.
“We need to focus on what it is that we have to get from our beef to make the consumer happy,” he said.
“Price is interesting because one thing we were able to find in the 1990s was that beef was regarded as the king of proteins.
“Yet in 1983, Australia was consuming 52 kilograms of beef and 9kg of hog (per person per year). By last year, hog consumption had gone to 27.5kg and beef 27kg.
“Exactly the same thing happened in America - hog comes second now.
“I really believe that is because we are not about making the product attractive.
“It has to be more than just price - it has to be attractive, fit for purpose, convenient.”
Inroads were being made, he acknowledged - you can actually get a beef roast to compete with the chicken roast today.
“People are finally starting to think there is a consumer out there but there still needs to be more initiative shown,” Mr Chappell said.
To add that sort of strategic value to beef and keep the product price competitive, Mr Chappell put forward three things he felt producers need to concentrate on improving.
They were saleable retail yield, eating quality and feed conversion efficiency.
“It’s not competition from within that we need to focus on first,” Mr Chappell said.
“We’ve been too frightened to say chook is no good really. It’s a protein matrix. If you want to get a good feed out of a chook you have to add apricots or a few peanuts.
“Beef has its own unique flavour, thanks to the fat.”
Marbling was an eating quality trait the industry should certainly focus on, according to Mr Chappell.
“We wrecked things a bit in the ‘70s by trimming so lean,” he said.
“All things in moderation.
“We need intramuscular fat. It’s the marbling component that drives two of the really important traits that consumers identify as being the ones that turn them on - tenderness and juicy flavour.
“It’s the amount, in combination with the fineness and distribution, that is important, so the consumer gets a little bit of fat with each mouthful.”
Muscle was the other tissue in the carcase to focus on.
His formulae: maximum muscle, optimum fat and minimal bone to make the carcase more price competitive.
“Let’s set up our breeding objectives with this in mind,” Mr Chappell advocated.
“I’m thinking my goal needs to be 60 per cent muscle, 15pc bone and 25 pc fat.
“We need to be able to prescribe this genetically so we can end up with progeny inside those sort of ranges.