Dave Nichols is mananging partner of Nichols Farms, a beef seedstock, cattle feeding and farming operation in southwest Iowa. He has served as chairman of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s Product Enhancement Committee and on the National Beef Promotion and Research Board.

Q What product issues are the beef industry focusing on?

A Right now we’re focusing on pre-cooked, microwavable, ready-to-eat products that utilize the chuck and round.

There’s no doubt these kinds of products will continue to grow. Poultry has had success as it has become more user friendly. Beef can do the same thing. Delis and fast food are taking a bigger share of the consumers’ dollar, as well as ready-made meal solutions. Those products are adding value to meat products.

Q How have beef producers recognized and embraced product quality issues?

A The middle meats, like the loin and ribeye, represented 25 percent of the carcass 20 years ago. Now that has increased to 41 percent. Beef producers finally understand that we have to become consumer-driven. We have to embrace quality issues because the consumer is our customer. History is strewn with carcasses of failed companies that didn’t realize the consumer’s ability to recognize quality.

Q What has caused beef demand to rise for the first time in 20 years?

A First, some of the diet and health concerns are not the factors they once were. Scientists have proven that meat is an important part of a balanced diet. The “Chicken Little food police” that sit in media rooms have cried wolf so much that it appears there’s nothing you can eat that won’t kill you. People are deciding they will eat what tastes good.

Q What are the future expectations for beef demand?

A Stable to increasing. If we can keep improving quality and consistency, beef demand will increase. That’s up to those of us who raise, process and sell beef.

Q Why has Certified Angus Beef been so successful?

A CAB has concentrated on marbling, which affects the product’s flavor. It has become the fastest growing protein food in the last three to four years because it delivers good taste and a fair degree of consistency. CAB has been doubling its production every two years.

Q Will more programs like CAB surface?

A Yes, other programs are already surfacing. The future for any commodity product is not very bright. Certified programs, source-verified programs and farm-to-fork programs will be more prominent. The whole food industry may be a series of hundreds of niches. One size fits all won’t cut it.

Q In what other ways is the beef industry moving toward a consistent, quality product?

A Branded product is one example. We live in a country that equates quality, price and value with certain brands.

For example, the perception is that Lexus is a high quality, high priced and high value car, while the Hyundai is a low priced and lower quality vehicle.

Q How is today’s primary shopper changing?

A You can’t really talk about “the” consumer, because there is no all encompassing profile. Consumers are getting older, there are more single parents and men are doing more of the shopping than in the past. You can’t put them all in one block, yet all of them want a safe, good-tasting product and something that they perceive to have value.

Q What does the future hold for beef, pork and chicken, domestically and globally?

A It’s exciting that in the next 10 years 20 percent of the world’s population will be coming out of poverty. When cultures increase their standard of living they add more meat to their diets. The United States can produce more high quality beef, pork and chicken more efficiently than anywhere else in the world and trade barriers will eventually come down.

Domestically, beef is going to take more market share from chicken, because chicken was the first to make products more consumer-friendly, and now beef is following that strategy.

Pork better get serious about quality. The pork industry needs to realize people want quality and that means including intermuscular fat. About one in five pork loins that I buy are dry and don’t have much flavor. The industry can’t shrug its shoulders and say that’s because the consumer doesn’t know how to cook pork or use any other excuses.