Convenience foods are projected to be a $47.5 billion niche market in 2012. USMEF is collaborating with the Beef Checkoff-funded Beef Innovations Group (BIG) to try to capture more of the international market for these products and help sustain the pace of U.S. beef export growth.
Chef Shenoa French (second from right) instructs USMEF's Gerardo Rodriguez, Jihae Yang and Sam Harada in the art of cooking
Representatives of BIG met with USMEF representatives from the Caribbean, European Union, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, South America and South Korea recently to both taste and learn how to prepare new beef convenience foods ranging from appetizers to roasts. The goal is to determine where there may be expansion opportunities for U.S. beef products in some of these key markets.
Steve Wald, senior director innovation and culinary services for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which contracts with the Beef Checkoff to conduct product development, along with chef Shenoa French, put USMEF staff through the paces, having them cook several innovative new microwave and stovetop products to see how easy they are to prepare and how tasty the results can be.
“Consumers today are looking for speed of preparation, quality, freshness and assurance of success in a meal,” said Wald. “They don’t want to have to think about it – just buy it and cook it.”
The USMEF team first sampled three new beef appetizer items under development at BIG: a Cheeseburger Bite, Tamale Stix and a spicy Santa Fe Beef Plank. Then the tables were turned as USMEF staff prepared several quick-cook items designed for busy families pressed for time.
“When people think about microwaveable food, they don’t think about beef,” said Wald. “I know I didn’t think beef could be prepared that way, but I was wrong.”
Chef Shenoa guides Sam Harada as he cooks a U.S. beef dish
The BIG team took USMEF’s international directors through the steps of preparing several beef items in the microwave, including ground beef in an innovative pouch that allows the grease to drain away from the meat, along with a coulotte roast and meatballs.
The USMEF directors also had the chance to prepare several stovetop items, including skillet steaks and Italian and Mexican steak thins.
As a result, the USMEF team came away feeling better educated on the opportunities that beef convenience foods might offer internationally.
“These trends tend to follow in Asia about 2 to 3 years behind the U.S.,” said Jihae Yang, USMEF-South Korea director. “More and more Korean homemakers are using microwave ovens, and they can appreciate the convenience of being able to cook with fresh beef.”
Yang noted that while steak is not currently a typical part of the Korean diet, the ability to cook one in minutes could help win converts in a culture that values convenience.
The situation is different in the Caribbean, where the steamy weather tends to keep people from cooking with a hot oven.
“Something that gives people in the islands the ability to prepare a foolproof roast in the microwave is valuable because they typically don’t roast,” said Liz Wunderlich, USMEF-Caribbean representative. “In fact, I’m not sure they use their ovens much at all.”
Wunderlich saw potential in a number of the items, ranging from the packaged ground beef to refrigerated meatballs to a thin steak kit that comes complete with fajita-type stuffings.
“Some people don’t like to make their own meatballs, so I can see an interest in that product if there’s long-enough shelf life to make it appealing,” she said. “I also like the convenience of the ground beef in a package. As a mother, I’d much rather have my son come home from school and use this to make himself a hamburger than have him eat cookies.”
The beef convenience items are in development at BIG and will be introduced over the next several months. USMEF international staff will look for expansion opportunities for these convenient U.S. beef products in some of the key international markets once the products are in distribution.