The recent re-categorizing of beef grades and naming pork "the other white meat," are two indicators of a wide-scale offensive being launched by the meat industry, as it struggles to adjust to the demands of the ever-changing consumer. It is hoped that by focusing on the "new" leaner meat being presented at the marketplace, the healthy attributes of white meat can again be associated with red.
Press conferences and media spots during the past several months, have presented facts and figures to support the idea that meat is leaner, significantly trimmer, in fact, than it was five years ago. Beef and pork producers alike are not only leaving a fraction of the original external fat on their products but are also looking into production methods that will yield lower-fat products overall, all of this in order to restore meat's position as a healthy protein, zinc and iron source.
Dr. Gary C. Smith, head of the department of animal sciences at Texas A&M University, spoke at a press conference last week on the producers' response to changes in consumer demands for beef.
He conceded that some important changes in the fat content of beef and in the out-dated, inconvenient preparation methods currently employed would have to be improved if positive consumer attitudes about beef are to be established. He explained that consumer surveys have shown (and consumption data has proven) that "the fat has to go" if people are going to feel OK about buying and consuming beef.
He indicated that a "niche market" somewhere between the classical cuts--steaks, roasts, stewing beef and ground beef--needs to be developed that can offer consumers a health benefit while offering the ease of preparation and versatility they desire.
After early attempts by the entire beef industry to 'play ostrich' on the diet/health/nutrition issues," he said, there is now "considerable interest" in developing a product to fit the needs of health-oriented consumers. He added that in general, people "like the taste of fat and if possible, they would like to continue to eat it." But, he said, most have an aversion to "plate waste" and therefore, see piles of fat collecting on their plates as economically foolish.
Instead, beef packers, by making genetic and feeding changes which make their animals leaner, and by removing most of the fat from beef in the box long before it reaches the retailer, are presenting cuts in the supermarket case that display no more than one-quarter-inch external fat and have a lower percentage of marbling (the veins of fat weaving through a cut of beef).
"Because so many people discard the fat either before cooking or once it's on the plate, there's no reason to put it in," Smith said, so most packers will be looking into ways of sending their product to market in a leaner form. "If there is a relationship between beef consumption and heart disease, cancer, obesity and weight control, it is one of fat. Not all the data is in, but the take-home message is, if you eliminate the white (the fat), you can eat the red."
Meanwhile, over at the National Pork Producers Council, the results of a survey, designed to measure the success of the pork industry's campaign to position pork as "the other white meat" in the eyes of the consumer, conducted by Rozmarin & Associates, Omaha, have shown that consumers have not only begun to think of fresh pork as white meat, but they are also associating the perceived positive attributes of white meat with pork.
This new study sampled 1,800 decision-makers between the ages of 25 and 54 in six cities where participants had received varying levels of media exposure during the last seven months. The results were compared against data collected in January and February of last year, before the advertising campaign began.
According to the council's figures, which were released in December, 1987, 49% of those surveyed thought pork was higher in calories than other meats compared to 60% who held that belief seven months prior to the survey. Fifty-one percent gave fresh pork a positive rating for versatility, compared to 43% in the previous study.
The bottom line, whether beef or pork is desired, is that the meat industry is responding to consumer and health groups' concerns about its products by implementing production methods (including feeding practices and trimming techniques) that make leaner cuts available.
How these industry changes are perceived and implemented by consumers are key factors in the role of meat in heart-healthy diets of the future. Sensible menu planning also is an essential component. At this stage of the game, meat salads, stir-frys and finger foods all using the recommended 3 1/2-ounce serving are considered ideal uses of either beef or pork: they provide the versatility required if dieting is to be successful.
JAPANESE STEAK SALAD
Sesame Marinade and Dressing
1 pound well trimmed beef top sirloin steak, cut 1-inch thick
3 cups sliced napa cabbage, cut 1/4-inch
3 cups sliced romaine lettuce, cut 1/4-inch