Consumer prejudices affect willingness to pay for beef

Study finds consumers don’t know what they want until they taste it

Writer: Kerry Halladay,

Preconceived notions about food can drastically change a consumer’s mind. Offer a young child broccoli to eat and they might reject it. Offer that same child “little trees” and they might suddenly enjoy it. The same apparently holds true for consumers and beef.

A recent study by eight Texas A&M University researchers published in the Journal of Animal Science looked at consumer’s stated desires and willingness to pay for beef based on production and eating quality attributes with and without tasting the beef.

The researchers found that consumers’ stated values regarding beef don’t match up with their reactions after eating it. While consumers stated a greater willingness to pay for grass-finished beef before eating it, for example, after eating it they reported a lower willingness to pay. Researchers pointed out that producers and retailers could be hurt by this divergent consumer behavior if they are seeking to deliver products based on what consumers say they want.

The experiments

The study—“The influence of taste in willingness-to-pay valuations of sirloin steaks from postextraction algal residue-fed cattle”—examined a number of factors through several experiments.

In one experiment, study participants were presented with taste tests of sirloin steak from cattle finished in three different ways; grain, grass, and postextraction algal residue (PEAR.) PEAR is a byproduct of biofuel produced with algae and has been used as a novel feed ingredient for finishing cattle.

All study participants in this experiment were given descriptions of the different feeding regimes, though some were given the descriptions before the taste tests, and some afterwards. Samples were labeled with their production method. Study participants were asked to rank samples on general like/ dislike, flavor, and juiciness, as well as what product they would be willing to purchase and how much they’d be willing to pay for it.

Another experiment gave the same survey and production descriptions of grain-, grass-, and PEAR-finished beef as in the taste test experiment. The only difference was that these participants did not taste the beef they were being asked to rate.

A third experiment asked study participants to select from a variety of combinations of beef attributes on a survey. Attributes consisted of feeding regime of the cattle (grain-, grass-, PEAR-finished), tenderness (extremely tender, tender, not tender), USDA grade (Prime, Choice, Select), origin (local, domestic, imported), growth technology used (hormones, antibiotics, no hormones and antibiotics), and price ($3/lb., $5/lb., $7/lb.).


While the study examined a number of beef attributes and consumer perceptions and willingness to pay for those attributes, perhaps the most interesting take-away dealt with consumer willingness to pay for different production methods with and without taste tests and the results of the taste tests.

In the taste tests, study participants liked the grain- and PEAR-finished beef more than the grass-finished. Flavors were rated as generally the same across the three varieties. The PEAR-finished beef was rated the juiciest and grass-finished the least juicy.

Willingness to pay for PEAR-finished beef changed with experience of the beef. Those non-tasting study participants reported being willing to pay a discount of $2.58/ lb. for PEAR-finished beef compared to grain-finished. Those who tasted the beef reported being willing to pay roughly the same price for PEAR- and grain-finished beef.

Plainly speaking, potential consumers judged the PEAR-finished beef negatively prior to experience with it and judged it generally equivalent to grain-finished beef after having experienced it.

Conversely, potential consumers judged grass-finished beef positively prior to experience, then judged it negatively after having experienced it. Non-tasting study participants reported being willing to pay a premium of $1.98/lb. for grass-finished beef over grain-finished beef. Those who tasted the beef, however, reported being willing to pay a discount of $1.65/ lb. Experiencing grass-finished beef reduced how much study participants reported they were willing to spend by $3.63/lb.

“Consumers’ preconceived notions of a value and what they place value on may change drastically when they consume the product,” the study noted.

“Cattle eating algae may generate a negative initial reaction, but when a consumer tastes the product, their performed estimate of value changes. Producers and retailers may wish to be cautious about aggressive response to stated consumer preferences for products with which consumers have little experience, as the likelihood of repeat purchases may be lower than anticipated.”

Tenderness tops tastes

Other areas of focus in the study suggested this experiential change in consumer value regarding grass- and PEAR-finished beef likely lay in the relative tenderness of the different products. The grain- and PEAR-finished beef had statistically equivalent tenderness levels according to Warner-Bratzler shear force scores, whereas the grass-finished beef samples were significantly less tender.

Tenderness was the key attribute in terms of changes in willingness to pay between tasting and non-tasting study participants. Non-tasting participants reported their willingness to pay a premium of $3.10/lb. for “extremely tender” beef, and a discount of $4.67/lb. for “non-tender;” a spread of $7.77/lb. In those participants who tasted beef samples, the spread widened significantly. Tasting participants were willing to pay a premium of $10.65/lb. for “extremely tender” beef, but discounted “non-tender” beef by $16.42/lb.

“Although all respondents clearly valued tenderness attributes, experience amplifies their importance, both positively and negatively,” the study reported.

The study also noted that this premium/discount spread seemed unattached to USDA grades. Non-tasting participants rated their willingness to pay for all grades of beef—Prime through Select—as roughly the same.

The tasting participants did give some premium to Prime and some discount to Select relative to Choice, but the spread was dwarfed by that of tenderness.

“Therefore, indications about the level of tenderness and juiciness may be more effective than listing the quality grade of the meat, even though they are intended to convey the same information,” the study recommended. It additionally speculated that companies may be able to capture more of a premium if they utilize marketing terms consumers know and value, such as “guaranteed tender.”


via source Western Livestock Journal  | Consumer prejudices affect willingness to pay for beef

For more information regarding news from the Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Texas A&M University, please contact Maggie Tucker at or (979) 845-1542.

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