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    Meat Quality Perception in Argentina

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    (This entry belongs to Entry Collection "Society 5.0 ")

    Definition

    In Argentina, color and intramuscular fat are the main attributes of raw beef quality; however, it is necessary to clarify how consumers use them, in order to establish different marketing strategies. Consumer preferences are affected by multiple factors. Thus, the objective of the present study was to identify the Argentinian consumer’s choice behavior regarding beef color and fat content. An online survey was carried out in Argentina. It inquired about socio-demographic characteristics, purchase and consumption habits and beliefs, showing pictures related to color, marbling and the amount of fat. Choice behavior was evaluated by asking why consumers chose a particular picture out of the ones shown. Several Kruskal–Wallis tests evaluated the different hypotheses. Three different decision trees using the CHAID analysis method were created. Multifactorial analysis was carried out for clustering consumers. Regarding consumer beliefs, 90% of the respondents agreed with the sentence, “The two main characteristics defining beef quality at purchase time are meat color and marbling”. Socio-demographic characteristics affected purchase habits and beliefs; they also affected perceptions about meat color and marbling. It was possible to build three consumer groups for future marketing strategies: “hedonic” focused on a pleasing sensory experience, “appearance” prioritized the visual aspects, and the “health-conscious” consumers were interested in their healthy nutrition. 

    1. Introduction

    With a total livestock population of 53.9 million cattle, Argentina produces more than 3 million tons of meat per year, and it was the fourth-largest producer of beef meat in 2018 [1]. Argentina is also well-known in the world for its good-quality beef product, and it is one of the major world exporters of beef. In addition, it is the second country in the world by per capita consumption of meat, which is around 100 kg per person/year. In Argentina, when buying beef, consumers base their choice mainly on color and intramuscular fat [2]. According to a survey carried out by the Argentinian Beef Promotion Institute [3], color, tenderness and intramuscular fat are the main beef quality attributes. However, it remains unclear whether consumers perceive and use these intrinsic attributes in different ways, especially since, in recent years, consumers have become increasingly aware of the relationship between food and health. In this sense, Argentinian meat consumption exceeds the nutritional recommendations for the prevention of chronic non-communicable diseases and some types of cancer. In Argentina, public health policies recommend a healthier diet [4], reducing the total meat consumption and increasing vegetables, fruits, and whole grains [5]. These recommendations may have changed the consumer perception of meat. On the other hand, the beef production system changed during the last two decades, due to a dramatic expansion in crop-growing areas, driven by increasing grain prices. This might also have produced a change in consumer perception [6], as the traditional beef production system of Argentina, previously based on pasturing only, is now complemented by a feedlot finishing period (2–3 months), which produces meat with greater fat content.
    Despite all this, Argentinian consumer preferences for meat are infrequently studied. The few perception surveys developed in Argentina have focused mainly on the urban population and, especially, that of Buenos Aires city [7][8][9][10]; but as far as we know, there is no survey that has been carried out across the entire country. However, according to Zapata et al. [11], there is a marked difference in the food consumption patterns between rural and urban households in Argentina. Moreover, the authors showed consumption as affected by multiple factors like availability, accessibility, and food choice, which in turn can be influenced by geographic location, demographic condition, income, socioeconomic level, globalization, commercialization, religion, culture and attitudes of consumers. For instance, meat perception by rural consumers may be determined by their own knowledge about animal production.
    Argentina has six clearly differentiated regions in terms of population density, economic activities and the socio-economic characteristics of households [12]: the metropolitan area, including surrounding areas of Buenos Aires city (CABA-GBA), the Pampeana region, northwest region, northeast region, Cuyo region and the Patagonia region. The contrasts in lifestyles and cultures of the regions have led to the use of differentiated strategies by the supermarket chains [12].

    2. Multiple Factor Analysis

    Table 1. shows the percentage of variability explained by the two first factors for each of the multiple factor analyses (MAF) carried out, as well as the cosine squared for each variable in each factor.
    Table 1. Eigenvalue and percentage of variability explained by the first two factors for each of the three Multiple Factor Analysis carried out, and cosine squared for each variable in each factor. The criterion “none of the above” was excluded from the analysis. When the sum of the cosine squared in the two factors was >0.4, the criterion was chosen for the hierarchical cluster (values in bold).
        Factor 1 Factor 2
    Picture 1 (based on color) Eigenvalue 1.141 1.004
    Variability (%) 22.286 19.606
    Cosine squared
    Fresh 0.056 0.650
    Tender 0.335 0.186
    Tasty 0.488 0.110
    Juicy 0.395 0.006
    Healthy 0.077 0.192
    Cheap 0.004 0.000
    Picture 2 (based on marbling) Eigenvalue 1.489 0.583
    Variability (%) 48.854 19.116
    Cosine squared    
    Tender 0.441 0.307
    Tasty 0.515 0.214
    Juicy 0.464 0.112
    Healthy 0.533 0.131
    Cheap 0.008 0.002
    Picture 3 (Rib) (based on marbling) Eigenvalue 1.415 1.052
    Variability (%) 20.699 15.382
    Cosine squared    
    Tender 0.436 0.016
    Tasty 0.484 0.000
    Juicy 0.611 0.015
    Healthy 0.031 0.001
    Cheap 0.029 0.009
    Less waste 0.099 0.252
    Fat color 0.004 0.575
    Fat amount 0.017 0.046
    General color 0.000 0.687
    In the MAF of Picture 1, the first two factors explained 41.9% of the variability. “Tender”, “tasty” and “juicy” criteria presented a sum of cosine squared > 0.4 and were therefore selected for the hierarchical cluster. In the MAF of Picture 2, 68% of the variability was explained by the first two factors and the selected criteria were “tender”, “tasty”, “juicy” and “healthy”. In the MAF of Picture 3, 36.1% of the variability was explained by the first two factors and selected criteria were “tender”, “tasty”, “juicy”, “fat color”, and “general color”.
    Three groups of consumers were obtained from the cluster analysis, with a cophenetic correlation of 0.456. The description of consumer profiles (clusters) according to their socio-demographic variables, purchase habits and beliefs, and by their choice behavior, are shown in Table 2; Table 3 respectively.
    Table 2. Percentages of each socio-demographic characteristic, purchase habits, and beliefs for each of the consumer groups obtained in the cluster analysis.
        Consumer Group  
    Description   Hedonic (38.3%) Health-Conscious (37.4%) Appearance (24.2%) p-Value
    Gender Male 65.6 * 64.4 64.2 0.841
    Female 34.4 35.6 35.8
    Age ≤35 41.1 42.4 46.7 0.195
    36–55 38.1 38.6 34.5
    >55 20.8 19.6 18.7
    Highest education level reached Primary school 1.2 1.5 1.9 0.272
    Secondary school 26.1 23.7 21.1
    Tertiary or higher 72.7 74.8 77.0
    Occupation Crop production 33.8 27.2 22.2 0.003
    Meat production 22.8 28.9 29.3
    Livestock or meat commercialization 37.0 3.0 2.1
    Human health 4.9 4.75 8.3
    None of the above 34.9 36.2 38.0
    Are you the person in charge of beef buying at home? Yes 80.6 82.3 81.1 0.683
    No 19.4 17.7 18.9
    Where do you buy beef most often? At the supermarket, packaged 11.7 11.7 10.6 0.221
    Butcher’s at the supermarket 20.3 17.6 16.4
    Traditional butcher’s shop 68.0 70.6 73.0
    How often do you eat beef? Daily 15.7 16.8 18.2 0.221
    Alternate days 37.7 38.7 38.7
    Twice a week 11.8 12.7 12.4
    Once a week 30.7 29.4 28.0
    Once a month 4.2 2.3 2.8
    Do you agree with the following sentence: “The two main characteristics defining beef quality at purchase time are beef color and marbling” Yes 88.9 91.1 89.5 0.351
    No 11.1 8.9 10.5
    * Percentages higher than expected are marked in bold, and those lower than expected are marked in italics.
     
    Table 3. Description of consumer profiles (clusters) according to their choice behavior. Percentages are of people who marked a criterion as used in the choice of each picture.
    Description   Hedonic (38.3%) Health- Conscious (37.4%) Appearance (24.2%) p
    Based on the color of the following five steaks, which one would you choose? (Picture 1) Option 1 (darker) 1.5 1.6 0.8 0.923
    Option 2 7.4 6.1 8.0
    Option 3 35.6 36.3 35.1
    Option 4 42.5 42.6 41.4
    Option 5 (lighter) 13.1 13.4 14.6
    Fresh 1 62.3 63.6 79.6 <0.001
    Tender 49.0 36.1 43.6 <0.001
    Tasty 56.2 22.2 27.6 <0.001
    Juicy 24.4 9.7 5.5 <0.001
    Healthy 26.1 31.2 39.8 <0.001
    Cheap 0.8 0.3 0.8 0.327
    None of the above 2.9 1.5 1.7 0.001
    Based on the marbling of the following two steaks, which one would you choose? (Picture 2) Option 1 (more marbling) 13.2 14.9 12.4 0.452
    Option 2 (less marbling) 86.8 85.1 87.6
    Tender 37.8 15.4 27.6 <0.001
    Tasty 72.3 3.7 23.8 <0.001
    Juicy 28.0 1.9 4.2 <0.001
    Healthy 56.1 94.6 23.8 <0.001
    Cheap 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.000
    None of the above 3.3 0.7 3.2 0.001
    In general, which of the following two ribs would you choose? (Picture 3) Option 1 (less fattened) 77.8 95.4 89.3 <0.001
    Option 2 (more fattened) 22.2 4.6 10.7
    Tender 36.6 13.5 19.2 <0.001
    Tasty 72.6 1.2 12.4 <0.001
    Juicy 26.6 3.1 2.1 <0.001
    Healthy 45.8 62.1 47.4 <0.001
    Cheap 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.447
    Less waste 36.5 37.7 43.2 0.055
    Better fat color 9.2 0.5 61.3 <0.001
    Adequate fat amount 48.7 48.9 50.1 0.886
    Better general color 24.4 2.0 100 <0.001
    None of the above 1.6 1.4 0.0 0.026
    1 For each choice criterion, the table only shows the percentage of times in which a certain criterion was chosen. Percentages higher than expected are marked in bold and those lower than expected are marked in italics.
    No differences between groups were found for consumer gender, consumer age, or beef consumption frequency (p > 0.05), but occupation differed between consumer groups (p < 0.001). In the same way, no differences were found between groups in the chosen Picture 1 or chosen Picture 2 categories (p > 0.05), but differences were found for the chosen Picture 3 category (p < 0.001) between the three different groups.
    The first cluster (n = 751, 38.3% of the sample) comprises respondents who showed a profile that could be termed as “hedonic”. To choose the pictures, they used the criteria “tender”, “tasty” and “juicy”, whereas “healthy” or “color” was less frequently chosen than expected. A greater proportion of them preferred the second option of Picture 3; that is, the most fattened. According to Smith and Carpenter [13], tenderness, flavor, and juiciness are the primary traits to describe overall beef palatability. Moreover, according to Lusk et al. [14], these primary traits are highly correlated with overall experienced quality, intention to purchase, and willingness to pay. Thus, this group is characterized by choosing based on palatability. In this group, we found the most people whose occupation was related to crop production (33.8%). The second group (n = 734, 37.4% of the sample) selected the criterion “healthy” in Picture 2 and in Picture 3, but they did not mark any of the other criteria as important and they cannot be defined in terms of occupation. Thus, they could be classified as “health-conscious”. They chose the less fattened Picture 3 as recommended by the WHO [15] to decrease the number of calories in their meals. The third group (n = 475, 24.2%) chose “fresh” and “healthy” for Picture 1, no particular criteria for Picture 2 and “less waste”, “better fat color”, and “better general color” for Picture 3; that is, they were people that use general appearance to choose the pictures. Visual appearance characteristics are highly related to consumer expectations and are intrinsic quality cues [16]. Moreover, because these characteristics are used to access food quality, they are highly related to their choice at purchase [17]. Consumers from the third group were not worried about tenderness, juiciness, taste, or health, although, curiously, they were mostly occupied in human health-related jobs. Although clusters could not be defined in terms of consumers’ age, people in the “appearance” group tended to be the youngest (≤35 years old); this could explain their lack of concern with the “healthy” criterion.
    Consumers are the last link of the production chain, and they have their own expectations about the product, associated with their beliefs and/or feelings. According to Deliza et al. [18], previous information and experiences form the expectation process. In this sense, the frequency of consumption influences the expectation process; indeed, it influences the perception of beef quality, as shown in the present study. Since there is little information about fresh meat, consumers have difficulties in forming their quality expectations. According to Grunert et al. [19], labeling and appearance are the main characteristics that form meat quality expectations. However, they do not seem to be very good predictors of meat-eating quality.
    The three groups of consumers identified in Argentina are important for marketing strategies, as they have their own characteristics. While consumers in the “hedonic” group search for a pleasurable sensory experience, consumers in the “appearance” group search for visual aspects, and those in the “health-conscious” group are interested in a healthy diet.

    3. Conclusions

    In order to generate a beef marketing strategy in Argentina, it was possible to group the population into three market groups, named “health-conscious”, “hedonic” and “appearance”. The first group chooses lean beef because it is healthier. In turn, the second group prefers fattier beef, associating it with a tender, tasty and juicy steak, looking for palatability. Consumers in the third group make their choice based on how beef looks like and how it relates to freshness, color, health and the lower production of waste (less waste). On the other hand, the decision tree grouped the Argentine population into two market groups based on beef fat content. The first group includes the “health-conscious” and “appearance” groups, and it contains consumers interested in their health (lean meat) and in a given beef color. The other group contains the “hedonic” group, which consists of consumers who search for a palatable product. Fat and color in beef are the main attributes that all groups have in common and consumer’s beliefs and purchase habits are influenced by them. As beliefs and purchase habits appear to be influenced by socio-demographic characteristics, it's considered that the consumer perception of color and marbling depends on these.

    The entry is from 10.3390/foods10071465

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