Who Eats Beef? Consumption Depends On Age, Education UF Study Shows

Kristin Harmel

Sara Medina
Ronald Ward ward@fred.ifas.ufl.edu, (352) 392-1845 ext. 402

GAINESVILLE—Researchers at the University of Florida have uncovered several links between beef consumption and factors such as education level, age and family size.

In a nutshell, the older and more educated you are, the less likely it is you’ll be ordering the porterhouse or a Big Mac. Likewise for working women and people who come from small families.

In a study funded by the National Cattleman’s Beef Promotion and Research Board, UF Professor Ronald Ward and doctoral student Sara Medina examined data from surveys of 7,520 households nationwide collected over a six-year period. Participants in the study reported their meat purchases every two weeks. The participating households, which were geographically distributed across the country, were representative of the U.S. population based on the census.

“We were trying to determine what really drives the demand for beef and whether it changes with the national beef promotion programs,” said Ward, an agricultural marketing professor in UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Ward supervised the study, which Medina did for her dissertation. “This study is part of the evaluation of an incredible database of consumers’ spending on meats.”

Education level turned out to be one of the biggest determinants of beef consumption.

“As education level goes up, demand drops off,” Ward said. “It may be because higher educated people tend to experiment more with different kinds of food. It might be that you read a lot more about food preparation or that you’re more concerned with your health.”

Age and the employment status of the adult female in the household also affected beef consumption. As people age, they tend to buy less beef, the researchers found. Women who worked more than 30 hours a week also were less likely to purchase beef.

“The concept of people who are highly educated or work long hours not eating as much beef has been because beef has not been typically easy to prepare,” said Monte Reese, the chief operating officer of the Cattleman’s Beef Promotion and Research Board. “We’ve worked hard to make it more convenient.”

In fact, Reese said, the poultry industry already has used that strategy to leap ahead of beef in recent years.

“If you still had to cut up a whole chicken fryer like they used to have to, you wouldn’t be eating much chicken, would you?” Reese said. “They made it convenient. We were just slow to recognize the importance of that, but now we have.”

The study also found that as family size goes up, beef consumption tends to rise in relation to poultry, pork and fish.

“Large family size is usually due to having more kids,” Ward said. “Kids like the beef.”

Income level also drove up beef demand, which may be because beef tends to be more expensive than other kinds of meat, Ward said.

The results of the study mean the beef industry likely will try some different advertising strategies, Medina said.

“From this, the different industries can see what they need to target,” she said. “They would try to increase their share of the markets, especially when facing declining trends due to one or more of the demographics. Our study is a tool that can be used to identify different types of marketing strategies. They may try to use more sophisticated ads and pamphlets that explain the health benefits.”

In fact, said Reese, the Beef Research and Promotion Board already is targeting some areas where beef falls short, and their efforts have been meeting with success.

“For the last six quarters, beef demand has increased,” he said. “A primary reason is the availability of convenience-oriented beef products. One of our current TV ads, for example, promoted a microwave beef pot roast that can be prepared in seven minutes. That’s prompted customers to look for products like that.”

The board also is targeting consumers who stay away from beef because they think it’s less healthy than other types of meat, Reese said.

“Our research indicates that there are a lot of misconceptions about the nutritive qualities of beef,” he said. “But beef is very healthy. It’s high in zinc, iron, protein and a number of B vitamins.”