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USDA Quality Grades May Mislead Consumers

03 January 2015

A study from Oklahoma State University has shown that there is a great deal of confusion among consumers over the quality grading of beef in the US.

The research by E. A. DeVuyst et. al. was designed to explore consumers’ perceptions about and knowledge of

USDA beef quality grades.

Data were collected from over 1,000 consumers in online surveys in November and December 2013, and estimates were weighted to force the sample to mirror the US population in terms of age, gender, education and region of residence.

When asked to rank Prime, Choice and Select grades in terms of leanness, only
14.4 per cent provided the correct ranking, with 57.1 per cent of respondents incorrectly indicating steaks grading Prime were the leanest.

Despite perceptions that the Prime name indicated the leanest product, in a subsequent question, 55.6 per cent of respondents thought Prime grade to be the juiciest of the three grades.

In addition to inquiring about perceptions of the grade names, respondents also indicated perceptions of pictures of steaks.

Only 14.5 per cent of respondents correctly matched the steak pictures with their corresponding USDA quality grade name, an outcome that is statistically worse than would have occurred through pure random matching.

When asked to match pictures of steaks with expected prices, 54.8 per cent of respondents incorrectly matched the picture of the Prime steak with the lowest price level.

More highly educated consumers with greater preferences for steak consumption were more likely to provide correct answers.

Results reveal substantial confusion over quality grading nomenclature and suggest the need for more education or for a transition toward more descriptive terminology at the retail level.

December 2014

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