It’s what’s for din­ner

Wal-Mart now has An­gus beef line in stores na­tion­wide.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

NATHAN OWENS

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has up­graded its beef of­fer­ings to in­clude USDA-cer­ti­fied An­gus prod­ucts in its stores na­tion­wide.

The na­tion’s largest gro­cer worked with sup­pli­ers Tyson Foods Inc. and Cargill Inc. to add a sup­ply of An­gus steaks and roasts to all 4,700 store lo­ca­tions. An­a­lysts saw this as one of Wal-Mart’s tac­tics to stay com­pet­i­tive in a rapidly chang­ing gro­cery en­vi­ron­ment.

Wal-Mart has made avail­able USDA choice- and select-grade An­gus beef ribeyes, filets and sir­loins since March. The ad­di­tional of­fer­ings have come with lim­ited ad­ver­tis­ing and pro­mo­tions, but con­sumer de­mand has strength­ened for qual­ity beef op­tions and Wal-Mart has re­acted to this, a spokesman said.

“It’s all about the cus­tomers,” said Molly Blake­man. “They’ve been re­ally dic­tat­ing this for us. When look­ing for a steak, it’s im­por­tant to have the right color, cut, mar­bling, and we’re re­spond­ing to their de­mands.”

The last time Wal-Mart up­graded its beef selections was in 2011, when stores shifted from sell­ing pri­mar­ily select beef, the low­est USDA-cer­ti­fied grade, to select and choice beef, about mid­dle-grade. Wal-Mart is

v calling its new­est meat prod­ucts “Ver­i­fied An­gus Beef,” not to be con­fused with the brand Cer­ti­fied An­gus Beef, which only sells prod­ucts in the top two tiers — prime and choice — of the qual­ity scale of the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture.

“Choice An­gus pro­vides con­sis­tent qual­ity and de­liv­ers the eat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that con­sumers are look­ing for,” Tyson spokesman Caro­line Ahn said in an email.

Com­pa­nies can sell An­gus beef, but that doesn’t mean it’s nec­es­sar­ily a higher-qual­ity prod­uct. Fast-food chains such as McDon­ald’s are able to sell An­gus beef burg­ers that don’t meet the same USDA stan­dards as the Cer­ti­fied An­gus Beef brand.

It’s too early to tell whether the change to in­clude se­lectand choice-grade An­gus prod­ucts will in­flu­ence con­sumers to buy more steaks at Wal­Mart, Blake­man said.

When Wal-Mart over­hauled its beef selections in 2011, the com­pany gained a 4 per­cent mar­ket share in beef over the span of 18 months, she said.

“If that’s any in­di­ca­tion for what’s to come, we’re re­ally ex­cited about that,” Blake­man said.

In gen­eral, U.S. beef con­sump­tion has dropped over the past decade be­cause of a mad-cow dis­ease scare in 2003 and a drought in 2014 that cut cat­tle num­bers to the low­est they’ve been since 1951, ac­cord­ing to the USDA’s Eco­nomic Re­search Ser­vice. How­ever, an­a­lysts are ex­pect­ing a comeback be­cause of in­creased na­tional sup­ply and the re­open­ing of China’s pre­vi­ously blocked beef mar­ket.

Wal-Mart’s move to add An­gus beef to its fresh meat sec­tion is a sign that the re­tailer is look­ing at “dif­fer­ent an­gles” to com­pete with other food re­tail­ers, in­clud­ing Ama­zon’s re­cently pur­chased Whole Foods chain, said Bob Wil­liams, se­nior vice pres­i­dent and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Sim­mons First In­vest­ment Group.

“That merger is go­ing to turn the tra­di­tional state of the gro­cery store on its ear,” Wil­liams said.

Wal-Mart said it is work­ing to im­prove the qual­ity of avail­able fresh pro­duce and meat in stores and ex­per­i­ment­ing with dis­tri­bu­tion meth­ods. Out­side of a few store lo­ca­tions, Wal-Mart is test­ing curb­side pickup ser­vices for cus­tomers who place on­line or­ders.

“[Wal-Mart’s] try­ing to ex­pand their ap­peal to dif­fer­ent shop­pers,” Wil­liams said. “I think peo­ple still have the per­cep­tion they could get bet­ter prod­ucts some­where else.”

Bloomberg News

Black An­gus cat­tle are ready for auc­tion at the Musk­ingum County Live­stock Co. in Zanesville, Ohio, in this file photo. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is now sell­ing USDA cer­ti­fied An­gus prod­ucts in its stores na­tion­wide.

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