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Journal of Food Quality
Volume 2019, Article ID 3806076, 9 pages
https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/3806076
Research Article

Survey of Quality Attributes of Beef from Farmers Market Vendors

Department of Animal Science, Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Texas A&M University, 2471 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843-2471, USA

Correspondence should be addressed to Kerri B. Gehring; ude.umat@gnirhegbk

Received 8 April 2019; Revised 19 July 2019; Accepted 13 August 2019; Published 2 September 2019

Academic Editor: José A. Beltrán

Copyright © 2019 Rebecca R. Kirkpatrick et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Abstract

Farmers Market steaks (n = 39 ribeyes, n = 39 top loins, and n = 38 top sirloins) were procured to establish a baseline for palatability characteristics and to compare consumer acceptance of retail steaks (n = 20 ribeyes, n = 20 top loins, and n = 20 top sirloins) to beef sold in niche markets. Palatability was evaluated using Warner–Bratzler shear force (WBS) and consumer sensory panels. No differences () were identified among Farmers Market steaks for WBS values nor between cuts for sensory panel ratings for Farmers Market or retail products. Overall liking and tenderness liking sensory panel ratings were lower ( and , respectively) for steaks from Farmers Markets when compared to retail. Farmers Market ribeyes and top loins were thicker () than top sirloins. These results will help niche producers understand how their products compare to beef from traditional supermarkets and allow them to identify areas for improvement.

1. Introduction

Consumer preferences have evolved, and demands for source and production information of their food has increased. In recent years, buying “local” and gaining a better understanding of where food comes from have become more important to consumers when purchasing food [1]. A survey by the American Meat Institute and Sealed Air reported that of the 1,360 respondents, 85 percent stated they were interested or somewhat interested in purchasing locally sourced meat and poultry [2]. The Economic Research Service (ERS) reported that consumers’ top reasons for purchasing locally grown foods are freshness, support for the local economy, and taste [3]. The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service defines a Farmers Market as “two or more farm vendors selling agricultural products directly to customers at a common, recurrent physical location,” and it maintains a list of markets to assist consumers in locating locally grown products [4]. In 2012, 163,675 farms in the U.S. were marketing their products locally [3]. Additionally, between 1992 and 2012, the value of the food purchased through direct to consumer (DTC) sales doubled, reaching $1.4 billion in 2012 [5]. Even more, the United States Secretary of Agriculture stated that Farmers Markets along with other agricultural direct marketing outlets provide approximately $9 billion to the U.S. economy each year [6].

With respect to beef sold at Farmers Markets, little is known about the quality and consistency of these products. Nationwide studies, such as the National Beef Tenderness Surveys (NBTS) [711], have been used by researchers and the beef industry to monitor tenderness and consumer acceptability of beef steaks sold in the United States. As a result of the NBTS, data on tenderness of beef across the United States for both the retail and foodservice sectors are available [79, 11], but they were not designed to evaluate quality and consumer acceptability of beef sold at niche-type markets.

To gain an initial understanding of the types and quality of beef sold at Farmers Markets, a statewide study was conducted across Texas. The objectives of this study were: (1) to determine the tenderness and consumer acceptability of beef sold by vendors at Farmers Markets, (2) to collect additional information about marketing claims, branding and tenderization, and current regulations for beef sold at Farmers Markets, and (3) to measure fat thickness and steak thickness of beef sold at Farmers Markets. Creating this baseline for acceptable tenderness and palatability of Farmers Market steaks provides vendors with information that may enhance consumer satisfaction and help increase their sales. Furthermore, data generated from this study can be used to guide further research on consumer satisfaction and potential methods for enhancing consumer acceptance of beef sold at Farmers Markets and other niche markets in the coming years.

2. Materials and Methods

2.1. Steak Collection

Farmers Markets (n = 21) located in Texas were divided into five main regions (North, South, East, West, and Central). Steaks (n = 39 ribeyes, n = 39 top loins, and n = 38 top sirloins), similar to North American Meat Institute [12] Institutional Meat Purchasing Specifications (IMPS) 1112, 1180, and 1184, respectively, were purchased from 25 vendors between August 2016 and April 2017. Most markets visited only had one or two vendors that sold beef; however, there were a few markets, mostly in the larger cities, that had more than two vendors. To prevent oversampling at a single market or geographical area, purchases were made at no more than two vendors per market. Steaks were purchased based on the availability of each vendor. At each Farmers Market, information related to marketing and branding claims for all beef vendors purchased from was recorded, as well as any additional information about production practices or processing of the steaks.

Steaks (n = 20 ribeyes, n = 20 top loins, and n = 20 top sirloins) also were purchased from three retail stores, each representing a different major retail chain (n = 3 national retail chains represented in total) in Bryan and College Station, Texas, in April 2017. Retail steaks were purchased to allow the direct comparison of Farmers Market steaks to retail steaks during the consumer sensory panel.

All steaks were transported to Texas A&M University in insulated containers with refrigerant materials on the same day. Farmers Market steaks were only available for purchase frozen, and due to typical commercial practices, retail steaks were purchased fresh. Upon arrival, retail steaks were individually identified and vacuum-packaged in 2.0 mil Sealed Air Food Care vacuum bags (Item No. B2620, Sealed Air, Charlotte, NC) with an OTR of 3 to 6 [(cm3 (STP)/(m2-24 hr-atm)) @ 0%RH, 4.4°C] using an UltraVac (Model 2100-D; Kansas City, MO) at approximately −46 kPa. All steaks were stored frozen (−40°C) until subsequent analyses.

2.2. Cooking Procedures

Steaks were thawed at approximately 4°C for 48 h. Before cooking, external fat and steak thickness were measured at three different locations per steak. If present, bones were removed. Additionally, for ribeye steaks, the M. spinalis thoracis was removed so that samples were only taken from the M. longissimus thoracis. Steaks were cooked on grated, nonstick electric grills (Hamilton Beach Indoor/Outdoor Grill; Hamilton Beach, Southern Pines, NC) and preheated for 15 min to approximately 177°C. All steaks were turned upon reaching an internal temperature of 35°C and removed when reaching an internal temperature of 70°C. Internal temperature of each steak was monitored with a thermocouple reader (Model HH506A; Omega Engineering, Inc., Stamford, CT) using a 0.02-cm diameter, copper constantan Type-T thermocouple wire (Omega Engineering, Inc.). For each steak, precook and postcook weights and cook time were recorded. Cooked steaks assigned to the consumer sensory panel were placed in a food warmer set at 60°C (Alto-Shaam, Model 750-TH-II, Milwaukee, WI) for no longer than 20 min before serving to panelists. Cooked steaks destined for Warner–Bratzler shear (WBS) force determination were placed on trays in a manner to avoid any overlapping, covered with plastic wrap, and placed in refrigerated (2°C to 4°C) conditions for 12 to 18 h.

2.3. Consumer Sensory Panel

Consumer panel procedures were approved by the Texas A&M Institutional Review Board for Use of Humans in Research (IRB2016-0325M). Consumer panelists (n = 80) were recruited from the Bryan/College Station area using an existing consumer database. Sessions were held twice a day for two days, with five groups per session and four panelists per group. Upon arrival at the sensory facility, an orientation was held to provide instructions for sample evaluation and ballot completion. Participants then signed a consent form and completed a questionnaire on demographics (Table 1) and consumption patterns (Table 2).

Table 1: Demographic attributes of consumers that participated in the sensory panels.
Table 2: Consumer panelists’ consumption patterns.

Seventy-two panelists evaluated six steaks (3 Farmers Market: 1 ribeye, 1 top sirloin, 1 top loin and 3 retail: 1 ribeye, 1 top sirloin, 1 top loin; for a total of 54 Farmers Market and 54 retail), and eight panelists evaluated five steaks (2 Farmers Market: 1 ribeye and 1 top sirloin or 1 ribeye and 1 top loin and 3 retail: 1 ribeye, 1 top sirloin, 1 top loin; for a total of 4 Farmers Market and 6 retail). Each steak was evaluated by four panelists. Cooked steaks were cut into cuboidal portions (1.27 cm × 1.27 cm × steak thickness) and served warm to consumer panelists in individual booths equipped with red theater gel lights. Samples were served in a random order and identified with random three-digit codes. Panelists were provided Nabisco Unsalted Tops Premium Saltine Crackers (Kraft Foods Global, Inc., East Hanover, NJ) and double-distilled, deionized water to use as palate cleansers between samples. Panelists characterized each sample using a 9-point scale (9 = like extremely; 1 = dislike extremely) for overall liking, flavor liking, juiciness liking, and tenderness liking.

2.4. Warner–Bratzler Shear Force

Before analyses, chilled steaks were allowed to equilibrate at room temperature before muscle fiber orientation was exposed by trimming steaks of visible connective tissue. Using a handheld coring device, six 1.3-cm cores were removed parallel to the muscle fibers of each steak. Cores were sheared once, perpendicular to the muscle fibers, on a United Testing machine (United 5STM-500, Huntington Beach, CA) at a crosshead speed of 200 mm/min using a 10 kg load cell, and a 1.02‐cm thick V-shaped blade with a 60° angle and a half-round peak.

2.5. Statistical Analysis

Data were analyzed using JMP Software (JMP®, Version 13.1, SAS Institute Inc., Cary, NC, 1989–2007). Frequency distributions were determined for demographics, consumption patterns, and shear force values stratified into tenderness categories. For all other data, an analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted using the Fit Model function and Student’s t-test to conduct least squares means comparisons with an alpha level (α) of 0.05. Steak measurement and cooking data were analyzed using steak type (ribeye, top loin, or top sirloin) and source (Farmers Market or retail) as main effects, along with their interaction. To determine any bias attributable to steak thickness, this variable was used as a covariate in the analyses of cook, tenderness, and sensory panel data. Additionally, consumer sensory panel data (overall liking, flavor liking, juiciness liking, and tenderness liking) were initially screened using the methods described in the American Meat Science Association Sensory and Tenderness Guidelines [13] to determine inclusion or exclusion of variables such as session, group, or serve order in the model. Panelist data then were analyzed using an ANOVA as previously described for steak measurement and cooking data. Shear force data were only collected for Farmers Market steaks; thus, only steak type was included as a main effect in the model.

3. Results and Discussion

3.1. Steak Measurements

Average steak thickness and external fat thickness for Farmers Market and retail steaks are reported in Table 3. Farmers Market steaks were found to be thicker () than those purchased from retail stores, while no difference () was seen between source for mean external fat thickness. Ribeyes and top loins were thicker () and had more external fat () than top sirloins. As the industry continues to cope with increases in carcass size, merchandising techniques and steak thicknesses have fluctuated to achieve desired portions. Martinez et al. [9] found boneless top loins were thicker than boneless ribeyes and top sirloins. Voges et al. [11] also reported a greater mean steak thickness for ribeye and top loin steaks than top sirloin steaks. Data reported by Guelker et al. [8] differ from the current study because no differences were found across the cuts for steak thickness. Guelker et al. [8] reported that ribeye steaks had a greater external fat thickness when compared to top sirloin steaks. In the present study, an interaction between source and steak type was seen for mean steak weight (g) (Table 4). Farmers Market top sirloins were larger () than all other products surveyed. Guelker et al. [8] and Voges et al. [11] also found that top sirloin steaks weighed significantly more than ribeye and top loin steaks. In the current study, retail ribeyes weighed significantly more () than their top sirloin counterparts. While it is difficult to discern an exact cause for steak measurement differences found in this and previous retail product-related studies, there is a reasonable probability that typical variations in cutting and trimming techniques at the steak level are contributing factors.

Table 3: Least squares means for steak thickness and external fat thickness by source and steak type main effects.
Table 4: Least squares means for steak weights (g) stratified by source × steak type.

North American Meat Institute [12] developed the Meat Buyer’s Guide to assist retailers with cutting specifications for the fabrication of uniform cuts of meat, which helps ensure cut consistency for consumers. The Meat Buyer’s Guide states that “ragged edges shall be removed” and that cutting should be done in a manner to keep a straight line and “an approximate right angle to the length of the cut” [12]. However, steaks found at Farmers Markets did not typically meet the descriptions outlined in the guide. Additionally, many of the available steaks were “wedge” cuts, meaning the steak gradually increased in thickness from one end to the other. In an effort to quantify this visible difference for each steak, thickness was measured in three locations and the difference between thickest and thinnest was calculated. A mean difference then was derived for each steak type. The mean differences in steak thickness were 0.7, 0.7, and 0.8 cm for top loin, top sirloin, and ribeye steaks, respectively (data not reported in tabular form). Comparatively, retail steaks had a mean difference in steak thickness of 0.5, 0.5, and 0.6 cm for top loin, top sirloin, and ribeye steaks, respectively (data not reported in tabular form). The larger mean difference for Farmers Market steak thicknesses supports the visual assessment that variation in thickness of Farmers Market steaks exceeded that of retail steaks. This is important because if an individual steak varies in thickness (is thicker on one end than the other), then the degree of doneness could vary from one end of the steak to the other, potentially impacting consumer acceptance in a negative manner.

3.2. Cook Yields and Time Periods

No significant differences () were found across source (Farmers Market or retail) or steak type for cook yield (Table 5). Additionally, while no differences between steak types were identified for cook time (), Farmers Market steaks had significantly longer () cook time periods than retail steaks. As previously described, steak thickness was assessed as a covariate in this analysis and, not surprisingly, imposed significant bias () on cook time. Similarly, Guelker [14] and Henderson [15] found no difference in cook times when comparing retail ribeye, top loin, and top sirloin steaks. Henderson [15] also reported no differences in cook yields across all retail cuts. However, Guelker [14] did report that bone-in ribeye and boneless and bone-in top loin steaks had higher cook yield percentage when compared to top sirloin steaks. As discussed previously, there were visible differences in steak thicknesses due to wedge cuts, in addition to overall variation in cutting styles and methods of Farmers Market steaks compared to retail beef items sourced commercially that tend to be more consistent overall.

Table 5: Least squares means for cook yields and times by source and steak type main effects.
3.3. Warner–Bratzler Shear Force

As mentioned previously, retail steaks were only used for direct comparison of consumer sensory panel ratings. Data provided by the National Beef Tenderness Surveys [79, 11] allowed for a national comparison of WBS force values collected in this study. WBS force values for Farmers Market steaks are reported in Table 6. WBS force values were not found to differ () among Farmers Market ribeye, top loin, or top sirloin steaks. These results are in agreement with findings from both the 2010 and 2015 NBTS by Guelker et al. [8] and Martinez et al. [9]; respectively, who found no significant differences in WBS force values between retail ribeye, top loin, and top sirloin steaks. These similarities can be attributed, in part, to the muscles that are in each of these three steak cuts. The ribeye and the top loin steaks are primarily composed of the M. longissimus thoracis and M. longissimus lumborum, respectively, while the M. gluteus medius is the predominant muscle of top sirloin steaks. Both muscles are ranked in the tender category within the relative tenderness ranking established by Belew et al. [16].

Table 6: Least squares means for Warner–Bratzler shear force values (N) for Farmers Market steaks.

Belew et al. [16] created four tenderness categories: “very tender,” “tender,” “intermediate,” and “tough.” As seen in Table 7, Farmers Market ribeye steaks had the highest percentage in the “very tender” category at 94.4%, compared to 85.0% and 80.0% of top loin and top sirloin steaks, respectively. Farmers Market top loin steaks were the only cut with representation in all four categories, with 5.0% in each of the “tender,” “intermediate,” and “tough” categories. Guelker et al. [8] found similar results with retail ribeye steaks having the highest percentage, of these three cuts, in the “very tender” category; as well as top loin steaks being the only cut to have representation in all four categories. However, Voges et al. [11] and Martinez et al. [9] reported that retail top loin steaks outperformed ribeye and top sirloin steaks with the highest percentage in the “very tender” category at 98.7% and 95.9%, respectively. Additionally, Martinez et al. [9] also reported retail ribeye steaks as the only cut having representation in all four categories.

Table 7: Percentage distribution of Farmers Market steaks stratified into tenderness categories based on Belew et al. [16].
3.4. Consumer Sensory Panel

Consumer panelists evaluated both Farmers Market and retail steaks to allow for direct comparison of sensory attributes. No interaction () was observed for consumer sensory panel ratings; therefore, least squares means of consumer sensory ratings for steak type and source as main effects are outlined in Table 8. Comparisons of Farmers Market steaks to retail steaks were made for all consumer rating categories (Table 8). Retail steaks outperformed Farmers Market steaks in the overall liking category (6.45 > 5.17; ) and the tenderness liking category (6.77 > 5.70; ). These differences are possibly due to the number of wedge cuts observed for Farmers Market steaks. No differences () were observed in the flavor liking and juiciness liking consumer rating categories between sources. The differences found between Farmers Market and retail steaks could be attributed to the variation in production practices, such as age at slaughter, cattle breed, and grain-fed or grass-fed, used by producers at Farmers Markets.

Table 8: Least squares means for sensory panel ratings1 by source and steak type main effects.

Steak types were found to differ for overall liking (), flavor liking (), and juiciness liking () traits (Table 8). For each of these traits, ribeye steaks received lower ratings than strip loin steaks which contradict the 2006, 2010, and 2015 NBTS by Voges et al. [11], Guelker et al. [8], and Martinez et al. [9], respectively. Although these authors evaluated retail and foodservice steaks, no significant differences in consumer rating categories when comparing ribeye steaks and top loin steaks were seen [8, 9, 11]. Martinez et al. [9] also found no significant differences for juiciness liking when comparing ribeye, top loin, and top sirloin steaks. However, Voges et al. [11] and Guelker et al. [8] did report significantly higher consumer ratings for ribeye and top loin steaks than top sirloin steaks for all four categories. And Martinez et al. [9] reported that the boneless ribeye and top loin steaks received higher ratings for overall liking and tenderness liking when compared to boneless top sirloin steaks.

It is worth noting that the inclusion of mean steak thickness as a covariate in the model revealed a steak type interaction () with regard to flavor liking ratings although no other sensory attributes were influenced by steak thickness in this way. A fair amount of literature is available to support differences in flavor due to steak thickness. Dunn et al. [17] described panelist-identified flavor differences in ribeye steaks of varying ribeye sizes, concluding that steaks with smaller ribeye sizes were thicker and had a more intense beef flavor. Dunn et al. [17] also postulated that the longer cooking time periods associated with thicker cuts could facilitate the production of certain flavor compounds. This concept was later tested by Berto et al. [18] who determined that steak thickness impacted cooking time, creating an increased likelihood of the Maillard reaction (nonenzymatic browning). Specifically, thick strip loin steaks exhibited higher beef identity and brown/roasted flavor than thin strip loin steaks of the same quality grade [18]. Kerth [19] also found that the production of volatile aroma compounds associated with the Maillard reaction (i.e., roasted) was greater in thick steaks when compared to thin. As described earlier, data from the present study showed greater steak thickness for Farmers Market steaks when compared to retail, and for ribeye and top loin steaks when compared to top sirloin. Again, while cook time periods were longest for Farmers Market steaks, cook time was not found to differ across steak types although top sirloins required longer cook time periods numerically. Therefore, it is rather curious that mean flavor liking ratings were not found to differ by source, but instead by cut type, with ribeyes receiving lower scores than top loin steaks.

3.5. Marketing and Branding Claims

A number of marketing and branding claims were observed when visiting Farmers Markets. The claims that were most widely seen or those that may impact consumer acceptance of the product are listed in Table 9.

Table 9: Distribution of steaks across marketing and branding claims for Farmers Market steaks.

According to the USDA [20], organic products reached over four percent of total food sales in the U.S. and continue to grow each year. In this study, only three steaks purchased from Farmers Markets were labeled as “organic.” However, the “all natural” marketing claim was found on 87.1 percent of the steaks purchased. After speaking with many of the vendors, it became evident that the time and cost associated with obtaining USDA certification for organic products were the main reasons for labeling products as “all natural” instead. The “natural” claim is defined by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service as “a product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed.” Using this claim does not require any certification, only that the label includes a statement explaining the meaning of the term “natural” [21]. The USDA requires producers to meet the following basic steps to become certified organic: (1) the farm or business adopts organic practices, selects a USDA-accredited certifying agent, and submits an application, (2) the certifying agent must review the application, (3) on-site inspection by USDA inspectors must be conducted, (4) certifying agent must review the inspector’s report and determine if the applicant complies with the USDA organic regulations. Once the applicant meets all requirements and all of the previously listed steps are completed, the organic certification is granted. The farm or business must also be reviewed and inspected annually. The expenses related to producing certified organic beef vary farm to farm and can range between hundreds to thousands of dollars. These costs are associated with changing production practices to meet standards and any applicable certification fees [22]. Most Farmers Market vendors stated that they did not produce enough beef each year for the certification process to be financially feasible or worth the time required to obtain and maintain certification.

Advertising Angus influence was another commonly seen marketing claim. Over half of the steaks were marketed as having some level of Angus influence. Although not sold as a certified, branded product, such as Certified Angus Beef, vendors marketed their beef as Angus or Angus-cross, to capitalize on the perceived popularity of Angus beef and impact on consumer purchasing decisions. While not all Farmers Market vendors sold Angus-influenced beef, many still used breed type as a marketing tool. Vendors utilized cattle breeds to market both novel, such as Scottish Highland, and easily recognizable, such as Texas Longhorn, products. This merchandizing approach piqued interest and increased discussions with consumers.

Buying local has become an increasingly common purchasing trend for consumers [3]. In a report to congress, Low et al. [3] stated a 180 percent growth in Farmers Markets in the U.S. from 2006 to 2014. From 2002 to 2007, farms using DTC sales increased by 17 percent, with total DTC sales increasing by 30 percent [3]. Farmers Markets provide both producers and consumers with a venue to market, sell, and purchase food products that would be considered by most as local.

3.6. Food Safety Regulations

The beef industry strives to produce safe, wholesome, and delicious products for consumers. Thus, the safety of Farmers Market beef is just as important to the industry as quality. The Texas Department of State Health Services requires Farmers Market vendors selling beef products from their privately owned herds to be processed at a facility that complies with Texas Health and Safety Code Chapter 433 [23]. Products should also be transported and stored prior to sale in a way so as not to adulterate the product. This can include keeping raw beef products refrigerated or frozen at all times in a temperature-regulated container, having the correct packaging, and not placing cooked product next to raw product. Lastly, vendors must also obtain a temporary food establishment permit prior to selling their products [24]. While visiting Farmers Markets, the following information was collected: establishment number of harvest facility, associated inspection agency (state or federal), and product storage type used.

Approximately two-thirds of steaks purchased at Farmers Markets were state inspected by personnel from the Texas Department of State Health Services—Meat Safety Assurance Unit (Table 10). All steaks, with the exception of four that were purchased from the same vendor, had either a USDA or Texas inspection legend on the packaging. The four steaks lacking an inspection legend were diverted to WBS force analysis to ensure that only inspected products were served to consumer panelists. Vendors used the following product storage styles: chest/upright freezers (n = 11) and ice chest coolers (n = 14) (data not presented in tabular form). Of the eleven vendors using chest/upright freezers, two were not using a power source; however, all purchased products were frozen at the time of sale.

Table 10: Inspection for Farmers Market steaks.
3.7. Pricing

Previous research on price comparisons between Farmers Markets and nearby grocery stores found that when comparing like items sold by like units, products sold at the grocery stores were significantly cheaper than the same products sold at Farmers Markets [25]. While a price comparison was not produced for Farmers Market and retail steaks during this study, it is important to note some of the differences seen. Products purchased from Farmers Market vendors during this study were sold either by the weight or by the package (price data not reported in tabular form). Prices on a per weight basis ranged from $9.00/lb for a sirloin steak to $38.50/lb for a ribeye steak. Steaks that were priced per package ranged from $5.00/package for a sirloin steak to $36.96/package for a sirloin steak. Future research of Farmers Market products should include data on pricing to quantify the variation of prices between cuts, as well as across the Farmers Markets. Furthermore, creating a price comparison of Farmers Market and retail beef could be beneficial to consumers. While many consumers purchase product based on quality attributes and production practices, pricing is still an important factor.

3.8. Recommendations

Farmers Markets provide an environment that allows consumers the ability to speak directly to producers about the product they are purchasing. While this direct marketing scheme allows producers to provide specific production-related information that consumers are demanding, there is still the issue of product inconsistency. As stated above, consumers’ demands have evolved over the years to include more than just palatability traits although consumers still want a flavorful, tender, and juicy product that has a consistent appearance at every purchase. Product and labeling inconsistencies could be a rate-limiting step for many producers at Farmers Markets.

Small beef processors, which are mainly being used by Farmers Market vendors, are in need of educational workshops and materials on proper fabrication techniques to create a more consistent product that could benefit both producers and consumers. Such training and outreach materials should be based on the National Meat Buyer's. Guide [12] and IMPS guidelines [26] to create consistency both within Farmers Market steaks and between Farmers Market and retail steaks. Additionally, there were some packaging issues and incorrect labels for Farmers Market steaks. Providing producers and processors with guides on better packaging practices should help to prevent freezer burn and excess purge from occurring as often, which would also lead to a higher quality product for consumers. By providing processors with a better understanding of fabrication and packaging, inconsistencies in products, packaging, and labeling that may lead to consumer confusion may be minimized.

4. Conclusions

This survey was conducted to establish baseline data for the tenderness and palatability of beef sold at Farmers Markets. Additionally, these data allowed for direct comparisons of consumer sensory ratings between Farmers Market and retail beef cuts.

Overall, the WBS force values of Farmers Market steaks were similar to those reported for retail products on a national level when comparing values to the previous National Beef Tenderness Surveys. Additionally, at least ninety percent of the Farmers Market steaks were considered to be “very tender” or “tender” from a shear force perspective. Similarly, consumer panelists’ ratings were comparable between steak type, source, and the previous National Beef Tenderness Surveys.

Beef consumers frequently make purchasing choices on expected palatability characteristics, and many of them are challenging the beef industry to share more information on the origin of beef products and how cattle are raised. Farmers Market vendors understand consumers’ desire to know more about their food and, as a result, often provide information on their type of cattle and production practices. While no difference was seen in objective tenderness measurements between steak types, reducing the number of wedge-cut products may aid small producers and niche vendors in improving overall quality of the product. Consumers value the opportunity to connect with their food but should not have to sacrifice palatability characteristics; therefore, increased uniformity in fabrication practices could enhance their eating experience.

Data Availability

Individual markets and vendors are confidential; however, other data used to support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon request.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Acknowledgments

This study was funded, in part, by the Beef Checkoff and the Beef Promotion and Research Council of Texas, and the data were collected as part of Rebecca R. Kirkpatrick’s thesis research.

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