Beef still king of consumer’s palate

K-State research shows consumers still prefer the taste of ground beef over plant-based alternatives.

Jennifer M. Latzke, Editor

July 7, 2021

3 Min Read
Burgers on the grill
SIZZLE: A consumer preferences study at Kansas State University shows that beef hamburgers still outperform plant-based alternative products in taste, appearance and general consumer preferences.mpessaris/Getty Images

Plant-based alternative “meats” may generate hot marketing buzz right now, but research out of Kansas State University shows consumers are cool to their taste when compared to ground beef.

Travis O’Quinn, a K-State associate professor, presented the results of a two-year K-State study into consumer preferences between ground beef and plant-based ground beef alternatives during the June 30 Kansas Beef Council’s Beef Insights webinar. It’s a topic that Kansas beef producers are concerned about, considering that in the past year there’s been a 45% increase in the alternative products year over year.

Same concept, different marketing

O’Quinn explains that plant-based meat alternatives are not new. In fact, there was a canned product, Protose, introduced to the market in the late 1800s that was marketed to vegetarians. In the 1980s, America saw the Boca Burger come to market, a soy-based meat alternative. The difference in those first two waves and this latest is that those first alternative products were marketed to vegetarian consumers.

These modern products, though, are targeting beef consumers with their marketing, he says.

“Today we have more consumers that are participating in a flexitarian diet,” O’Quinn explains. They may primarily eat plant-based, but they also will eat animal products on occasion. Foodies also enjoy a variety of foods, and so the goal with these new products is to draw ground beef customers away from beef.

But how do they taste?

Patty challenge

The study set out to test consumer preferences between ground beef and plant-based alternatives. The project tested ground beef in 70/30, 80/20, and 90/10 lean/fat percentages against retail ground beef alternatives, food service alternatives and a traditional soy-based alternative. Each was hand-pressed into quarter-pound patties and cooked to 160 degrees F before being served to a group of 120 consumers from the Manhattan, Kan., area.

“We asked the consumers to evaluate the appearance of the patty, and then many of the eating characteristics like juiciness, tenderness, texture, mouth feel and overall flavor,” O’Quinn says. “We asked them to focus on how ‘beefy’ the product was, and how much they liked that beef-like flavor.”

The results

In every category, consumers chose beef over plant-based alternative products, according to O’Quinn.

“Our consumers indicated that they did not like the three ground beef alternatives very much, especially in comparison to the three ground beef products that they evaluated,” he says. “Consumers thought those products had a flavor that was very different than the ground beef, and probably one that was not liked overall.”

The key points from the consumer panel include:

• Appearance. The three ground beef categories rated much higher than all three of the alternative products for their appearance.

• Juiciness. While, the food service ground beef alternative ranked as juicy as the 70/30 ground beef, the retail and traditional alternatives were very dry according to the panelists. “The traditional beef alternative was rated extremely dry by every measure that we evaluated,” he says.

• Flavor. O’Quinn says the three alternative products ranked very low by the consumers for beef-like flavor. “Essentially, our consumers did not think this product tastes like beef, and they did not like the flavor of it if it was supposed to be mimicking a beef-like flavor,” O’Quinn says.

The next step is evaluating consumer preferences when the products are cooked more according to real-world conditions, with cheese and condiments that can mask flavors, O’Quinn says

“Our study was served without any extra seasoning,” he says. “There’s some additional research that needs to be done to be able to evaluate how these products actually do in this real-world scenario, like a consumer would actually consume them to see if these differences hold true.”

About the Author(s)

Jennifer M. Latzke

Editor, Kansas Farmer

Through all her travels, Jennifer M. Latzke knows that there is no place like Kansas.

Jennifer grew up on her family’s multigenerational registered Angus seedstock ranch and diversified farm just north of Woodbine, Kan., about 30 minutes south of Junction City on the edge of the Kansas Flint Hills. Rock Springs Ranch State 4-H Center was in her family’s backyard.

While at Kansas State University, Jennifer was a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority and a national officer for the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. In August 2000 Jennifer started her 20-year agricultural writing career in Dodge City, Kan., on the far southwest corner of the state.

She’s traveled across the U.S. writing on wheat, sorghum, corn, cotton, dairy and beef stories as well as breaking news and policy at the local, state and national levels. Latzke has traveled across Mexico and South America with the U.S. Wheat Associates and toured Vietnam as a member of KARL Class X. She’s traveled to Argentina as one of 10 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism. And she was part of a delegation of AAEA: The Ag Communicators Network members invited to Cuba.

Jennifer’s an award-winning writer, columnist, and podcaster, recognized by the Kansas Professional Communicators, Kansas Press Association, the National Federation of Presswomen, Livestock Publications Council, and AAEA. In 2019, Jennifer reached the pinnacle of achievements, earning the title of “Writer of Merit” from AAEA.

Trips and accolades are lovely, but Jennifer says she is happiest on the road talking to farmers and ranchers and gathering stories and photos to share with readers.

“It’s an honor and a great responsibility to be able to tell someone’s story and bring them recognition for their work on the land,” Jennifer says. “But my role is also evolving to help our more urban neighbors understand the issues our Kansas farmers face in bringing the food and fiber to their store shelves.”

She spends her time gardening, crafting, watching K-State football, and cheering on her nephews and niece in their 4-H projects. She can be found on Twitter at @Latzke.

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