By Samantha Kneeskern
We all have our favorite brands of clothing, electronics, furniture, and many other everyday items. At the grocery store, branding sways consumers’ purchasing decisions, and as it turns out, beef is no exception.
Researchers at Kansas State University and the Angus Foundation recently conducted two trials to determine the effect of branding (using “Certified Angus Beef” and “Angus”) on consumer palatability ratings of ground beef and strip loin steaks. The results of these trials — the first of their kind to demonstrate the influence of branding on palatability ratings — can be found in the November 2016 issue of the Journal of Animal Science. Access The effect of branding on consumer palatability ratings of beef strip loin steaks and Determination of the effect of brand and product identification on consumer palatability ratings of ground beef patties. An interpretive summary of the ground beef trial is available in this Taking Stock article.
During the strip loin trial, consumer panelists participated in two rounds on the same day. During the first round, consumers were “blind” to the brand and were not given product information prior to sampling the beef. During the second round, consumers were informed of brand and USDA quality grade before they ate the beef. Consumers were asked to evaluate their beef strip loin samples based on tenderness, juiciness, flavor liking, and overall liking, and then rate each palatability trait as either acceptable or unacceptable. The results were quite remarkable.
There were five treatments in the strip loin tasting study: USDA Select, USDA Choice, USDA Prime, Certified Angus Beef (CAB, upper 2/3 Choice), and “Angus Select” (a made-up brand for the trial).
When consumers were blind to brand, they thought that USDA Choice and CAB loins tasted similar in all of the palatability categories. Also before brand knowledge, consumers believed that USDA Select and Angus Select tasted similar for all traits. However, in the second round of testing when consumers knew the brands and grades of meat before tasting, consumers rated CAB beef better than USDA Choice in all categories. They also rated Angus Select better than USDA Select for flavor and overall liking, once they knew the brand.
The corresponding author, Dr. Travis O’Quinn stated, “We were surprised by the magnitude of the increases in the palatability ratings due to CAB and Angus branding. I don’t think we could have predicted a close to 10% increase in consumer overall liking ratings for CAB and an almost 13% increase for Angus Select samples due to brand disclosure, especially considering the high level of eating satisfaction for the CAB products during blind sampling.”
O’Quinn believes that programs like CAB allow for the Angus breed to be visible to consumers and provide a level of comfort and familiarity with the breed.
When consumers were informed they were eating Prime beef, their ratings for flavor liking, overall liking, and total percentage of acceptable samples increased, compared to when they did not know the grade. Angus Select also received a similar bump. However, the palatability ratings for USDA Choice and Select samples did not change from blind to informed.
Overall, branding with USDA Prime, CAB, and Angus Select improved palatability perception. Unfortunately, USDA Choice and USDA Select beef did not. “We were surprised by the lack of impact branding with USDA Choice and Select had on consumer ratings,” states O’Quinn. The authors believe that this may be due to consumers getting confused about the USDA quality grading system, especially grades lower than Prime. Because many retailers sell Choice and Select, consumers may not see these two grades as having improved eating quality. “This is discouraging for those retailers and those in foodservice who market products with only these USDA grades,” states O’Quinn.
O’Quinn’s recommendation for consumers would be to “purchase high quality beef in order to increase the likelihood of a great eating experience. This can be assured through USDA quality grade or through a branded beef program such as CAB.”