Heavier carcass weights cause marketing challenges
Beef carcass weights have steadily increased over the years. This causes larger muscles and problems merchandising or cooking them.
Portion control cutting has been used in the beef industry for decades when cutting steaks for foodservice. Portion control cutting results in steaks that weigh the same yet have varying thicknesses. When cutting a steak to portion, for example a 10 ounce steak, the resulting variation in thickness from a 12 square inch ribeye to a 16+ square inch ribeye can cause trouble in the kitchen. The more consistent steaks can be in thickness, often the factor considered in cutting steaks for retail, the easier it is on chefs to cook steaks consistently.
Advances in genetics, feed efficiency and management throughout the beef industry have allowed farmers and ranchers to efficiently producer larger market animals. Increased carcass weight of these cattle is the major drawback to the progress made in the beef industry. As carcass weights increase, primal cuts and muscle size also increase. The average carcass weight has increased by about two pounds per year for the last several years, according to National Beef Quality Audits. Alternatively, pounds of beef produced continues to increase as the number of head marketed decreases resulting in similar amounts of beef produced according to National Agricultural Statistics Service.
One way processors have addressed larger carcasses is by altering the methods of breaking primal cuts down to retail cuts. The Beef Alternative Merchandizing (BAM) project from the Beef Checkoff has a series of cutting guides for heavier carcasses and point of sale information for retailers interested in providing smaller cuts to consumers. Innovative cutting styles result in decreased salable yields for cuts from the top sirloin butt and ribeye according to research from Texas A&M University. Saleable yield did not decrease when innovative cutting was used on the strip loin. Additionally, these researchers reported increased labor needed when cutting meat from heavyweight beef as well as the innovative cutting styles. But retailers should not completely disregard using some of the innovative cutting options on meat from heavier carcasses. Point of sale data from BAM indicates consumers are willing to pay more per pound for these innovative, smaller cuts because the overall package prices are still less than traditional package prices.