Past Projects

Market Research

Tenderness Audit of Beef Available in Ontario Grocery Stores

Research Lead: Dr. Ira Mandell , University of Guelph

Executive Summary

An audit was conducted to evaluate product tenderness in rib and sirloin steaks available to consumers at major grocery retailers located in nine metropolitan centers in Ontario. Steak purchases (over 1,900 steaks) included all the major retail grocery chains in Ontario along with some major independent grocery chains associated with specific metropolitan centers.  Commodity, branded, and natural beef (raised without antibiotics) products were purchased for rib and sirloin steaks with steaks purchased over the four seasons of the year.  Package information for each steak (purchase price, until price per kilogram, branded product information, marbling grade, best by dates, etc.) was added to a data base along with recording steak dimensions (thickness, area, depth of existing fat cover), and objective measures of lean color.  Steaks were cooked and then evaluated for tenderness and cooking losses.  Data from the trial were statistically analyzed to include the effects of season of the year, metropolitan center, retail grocery chain, store classification (mainstream versus discount), product classification (commodity versus branded), breed (Angus versus non-Angus) and interactions where applicable.

Season of the year affected product tenderness for rib steaks with tougher steaks more prevalent in summer and fall versus winter and spring.  Season of the year did not affect product tenderness for sirloin steaks but there was a season of the year by grocery chain interaction for product tenderness for sirloin steaks.  For the most part, metropolitan area did not affect product tenderness which is most likely due to the major grocery chains using central warehouses to provide product for their company’s stores across Ontario.  When differentiating rib steaks that were sourced from Angus and non-Angus cattle, grocery chain was significant with the toughest beef sourced from one national grocery retailer while another national grocery retailer provided the most tender beef found in the study.  Angus sourced beef was more tender than beef sourced from non-Angus cattle.  Beef purchased from discount grocery stores was less tender than beef purchased from mainstream grocery retailers.  Branded beef steaks were more tender than commodity beef products.  There were tenderness differences for branded products depending on how it was sourced.  For rib steaks, Angus beef was similar in tenderness regardless if it was a national branded Angus product, a regional branded Angus product, or an Angus product produced by a local independent chain.  In contrast to rib steaks, the national branded Angus sirloins were more tender than regionally branded Angus sirloins, or Angus sirloins produced by local independent chains.  For both rib and sirloin steaks, there were no differences in tenderness between  a nationally branded Angus product, a big box store non-Angus product, and a national product sourced from non-Angus beef.  This latter product tended to be more tender than the nationally branded Angus product when evaluating rib steaks, but less tender than the nationally branded Angus product when sirloin steaks were evaluated.  A non-Angus Ontario product was less tender than other branded products for both rib and sirloin steaks, most likely as this regional product has broad quality specifications in regards to marbling and postmortem ageing.  Rib and sirloin steak data were also evaluated to determine any relationships between tenderness and pricing or steak characteristics. Tenderness was negatively correlated with unit price (price/kg) for both cuts which was anticipated as one would expect that higher prices would deliver more tender beef (lower shear force values).  The natural beef product was less tender than other branded products when evaluating either cut.  Tenderness was negatively correlated with thickness of the cut and could be explained by thicker cuts associated with branded beef products or mainstream retail grocers. Tenderness was negatively correlated with marbling and although marbling does not account for extensive variation in beef tenderness, marbling scores tend to be greater in Angus beef products.   Tenderness tended to be positively correlated with rib eye area so that less tender beef (high shear force values) may be associated with beef products from Continental breeds which may tend to have larger rib eyes.  Marbling was highly correlated with unit price which may be explained by highly marbled branded products commanding higher prices.

The findings from this study demonstrate that consumers will find a range of product tenderness when they shop for premium beef cuts at their local grocery stores.  The Canadian and Ontario beef industries, packing plants, and beef researchers need to use this information to address tenderness problems in commodity beef and some branded products via cattle genetics, management programs, and(or) postmortem processing to ensure consumers can consistently purchase a tender product.  

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