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What are big carcasses doing to the future of the beef industry?

Large carcasses are forcing retailers to cut more of the middle-meat steaks thinner to meet package and cost restrictions. Does that move the beef business away from consumer preferences?

Jan 26, 2018

Commentary; By H. Russell Cross

It’s a conundrum that has long plagued the beef business—what’s economically necessary for producers presents big challenges for wholesalers, retailers and most importantly, consumers.

Over the past several decades, the genetic direction of the nation’s cowherd has been driving us to bigger and bigger cattle. That, in turn, drives bigger and bigger fed cattle carcasses. While that may be an economic reality for the production end of the marketing chain, it creates an alarming and difficult situation for beef marketers.

In 2016, the Texas Beef Council commissioned a study at Texas A&M University to analyze the potential impact of the increase in size/weight of cattle, carcasses, subprimal cuts and retail cuts/portions on supermarket operators, purveyors and distributors in Texas. During this study, researchers interviewed representatives of six supermarket chains and seven purveyor/distributors; we conducted audits of 54 supermarkets; and we conferred with individuals from several industry trade organizations and other universities. 

Preferences.  Issue:  23532.  Annual Meeting, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.

What I personally observed and learned during this study disturbed me greatly. 

First some background:

What did we learn in the retail store audits?

Interviews with retail chains

Interview with purveyors/distributors

How do we solve this problem? Here are some potential solutions suggested during the retail and purveyor/distributor interviews:




A top priority for the U.S. beef industry (Beef Board, NAMI, NCBA, state beef councils, universities, etc.) must be to address meat quality, consistency and preparation methods for the consumer. It is obvious that producing product from larger carcasses is an effective, sustainable practice that will likely continue.   

We must determine the impact of current and future practices and utilize data to identify the most effective path forward to not only increase demand, but to counter the potential slide in demand.

A potential course of action would be to more aggressively use the Beef Board’s consumer, cooking, recipe development and muscle profile research and begin to prepare and merchandize retail cuts with the optimal size and thickness that are supported by this research. 

It is time to take this seriously.

 Cross is professor of meat science and former head of the Animal Science Department at Texas A&M University


Maples, J.G., Lusk, J.L., and Peel, D.S.  2016.  When Bigger Isn’t Better:  Steak Size and Consumer