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Beef Demand Getting Softer

One of the more inspiring beef stories of the past decade has been the industry's ability to turn demand around after losing about 1% annually for the two decades before the slide began.

The Annual Retail Beef Demand Index (BDI) indicates beef demand grew in 1999 for the first time in 20 years, and has grown every year since, year-to-year, with the exception of 2002, which was only slightly less than in 2001. Even in the wake of BSE, the BDI grew in 2004 to a point where beef demand was roughly equivalent to what it was in 1991.

Unfortunately, the BDI lost a couple of points last year. According to James Mintert, the Kansas State University (KSU) ag economist who leads the industry effort to maintain BDI, this year will likely be softer yet -- the first two quarters have already fallen short of last year.

Speaking at the KSU Beef Stocker Conference last week, Mintert explained slowing consumer-income growth and the end of the low-carb diet boom are among the reasons domestic demand is losing ground again. Whether the softness represents a plateau before surging ahead, or a temporary damming of demand slide that could resume, is anybody's guess. Certainly no one suggests the bottom has dropped out or will, but it underscores the need for more research aimed at providing consumers more specifically what they want, more consistently