Meaty Matters

Buying high-quality proteins is a cornerstone of many operators purchasing plans. John DaLoia, director of culinary and corporate executive chef for Stampede Meat, Bridgeview, Ill., gives his thoughts on trends in protein purchasing.

We asked John DaLoia, director of culinary and corporate executive chef
for Stampede Meat, Bridgeview, Ill., for his thoughts on trends in
proetin buying. Stampede Meat is a supplier of custom and branded
value-added beef and pork products.

What center-of-the-plate trends are you seeing?

Operators are feeling the economic crunch and everyone’s trying to contain costs. Our customers are requesting reduced portion sizes, choice grade meats instead of prime and more pork products. They’re also trading down to less expensive beef cuts—going from a sirloin steak to a Ranch Cut (from the chuck), for example. On the flavor front, Asian is very popular as are comfort foods like stroganoffs.

How are you helping restaurants make more cost-effective purchases?

On some of our value-added meats, we’re adding 5 to 10 percent more marination. Increasing the marinade not only can boost the meat’s weight by 15 percent, it results in a juicier product. We’re also steering them toward bone-in instead of boneless cuts; a bone-in strip provides 10 to 15 percent more plate coverage. Plus, we can build custom products that conform to a restaurant’s food costs—whether that’s $2.50 or $5 for a center-of-the-plate serving.

Are you working on other cost-saving measures?

We’re experimenting with new and different cuts that have recently been identified by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. For example, we’re working with boneless country-style beef chuck ribs since short ribs are in great demand by Korea and the price keeps going up. We’re also looking to improve cook yield and fat trim on all our product lines.

What’s the key to center-of-the-plate purchasing in this economy?

Buy it right. Few operators can afford mistakes when it comes to purchasing meat. Educate yourself to become a smarter buyer, using your supplier as a resource for new ideas, product cuttings, custom solutions and cost-saving measures.

The meat market

Decreased supply is the big story as we move into the second half of 2008 and look ahead to 2009. The USDA’s Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook published by the Economic Research Service in February forecasts lower cattle inventories and reduced beef supplies; beef imports will also decline as a weak dollar lowers demand.

Similar scenarios are unfolding with other red meat animals. After consecutive increases in 2005 and 2006, sheep inventory has declined over the past two years, states the report. While 2008 pork production is five percent above last year’s, prices are averaging 15 percent below 2007 levels. Many hog producers are losing money and have announced cutbacks in production in order to make ends meet, but “reducing inventory is a slow process,” says Bill Lapp of Advanced Economic Solutions.

Overall food price inflation and high feed costs are keeping most wholesale meat prices high, but Lapp warns that 2009 will be the year of “protein sticker shock.”

Wholesale prices for choice steers per pound

2006: 85.4 cents

2007: 91.9 cents

2008: 90 cents

Wholesale prices for hogs per pound

2006: 47 cents

2007: 47 cents

2008: 41 cents

Source: USDA

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