US beef consumers have reason to cheer this summer with the lowest ground beef prices in years.
That, along with declining slaughter weights and lower per-animal beef production, could spark buying interest and turn markets higher later in the year. But for now, it looks like consumers can expect low burger prices for the grill and more advertising campaigns by burger restaurants.
Food service establishments may not lower the base prices for their products, but they could offer summer specials that lower the cost to consumers for a while in order to steal customers from competing restaurants.
WHOLESALE PRICES LOWER
What consumers won’t know is that the wholesale prices have dropped with the increased herd size and slaughter rates and beef production this year. 50% lean beef trimmings, which come mostly from the slaughter of feedlot-fattened steers and heifers.
The 50% lean trimmings market has shown resistance to rally attempts this year and was well below last year and the 2010-2014 average as of last week when it was 51.55 cents a pound. This was up 1.21 cents, or 2.40%, above the previous week’s 50.34 cents and up from this year’s low of 48.97 cents the first week of May.
Compared with last year, prices for 50% trimmings are down 44.42 cents a pound, or 46.3%, from 95.97 cents, and compared with the five-year average, they are down 45.278 cents, or 46.8%, from 96.828 cents.
Data also show that 50% lean trimmings prices began their decline last year as cattle numbers rose from a 63-year low. If prices this year continue to follow last year’s trend instead of the five-year average, they will offer retail grocers and restaurants the opportunity for special promotions throughout the year.
A LIMITING FACTOR
However, there is a limiting factor in the pressure on consumer-level ground beef prices – the price of 90% ground beef. USDA Agricultural Marketing Service data shows wholesale prices for this item running well below a year ago but just above the 2010-2014 average.
This product, which comes mostly from the slaughter of spent cows and from imported beef, often is blended with the 50% ground beef to produce 70% and 80% ground beef sold in stores. It also is sold as 90% beef, but such a lean product does not perform as well on the grill as something with a little more fat.
Increasingly, there has been a quiet return to producing 90% ground beef from trimmings and then adding the finely textured ground beef to the 50% to get the desired fat content. More companies are labeling their product this way to gain consumer acceptance.