Image: Butcher Cindy Rodriguez
Lucas Jackson  /  AP
Butcher Cindy Rodriguez hands a cut of beef to a customer at the Latin American specialty market in Whittier, Calif. where she works.
updated 6/14/2006 11:00:45 AM ET 2006-06-14T15:00:45

The beef industry is eager to keep customers like Lourdes Rodriguez, who recently bought six-and-a-half pounds of chuck roast at a Hispanic supermarket.

“I’m going to boil this into a stew,” Rodriguez, 31, said as she placed the bulging plastic sack of chuck into her cart. “I like beef better than pork.”

Beef consumption may be dropping in many segments of the population, but it has not fallen out of favor in the Hispanic community.

Beef producers are trying to keep it that way — even as that ethnic group assimilates into an American culture increasingly hungry for leaner meats and healthier diets.

“In the general community, people say, ’I love beef, but I already eat too much,”’ said Holly Foster, a spokeswoman for the California Beef Council.

“In the Hispanic community, there are none of the negative perceptions that have historically kind of plagued our product,” she said.

The marketing push is occurring across the nation. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is developing a Web site aimed at Hispanic consumers, and other sales campaigns are underway in Texas, Colorado and Minnesota.

Texas has the largest number of cattle in the nation followed by Kansas, Nebraska and California.

Nutritionists say beef could become a tougher sell in the future.

The growing affluence that makes Hispanics attractive to beef marketers is also putting them into an economic class more conscious of the dangers of high-fat diets, said Hugo Melgar-Quinonez, a nutrition professor at Ohio State University who has studied eating habits among the ethnic group.

“There is a change in demographics within the Mexican community,” he said. “With more and more professionals, tradition plays an important role, but there’s also growing awareness.”

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The California Beef Council has earmarked $500,000 in 2006 — more than a third of its advertising budget — to market beef to Hispanics in Southern California.

Much of the money is being used to stage parking lot parties featuring disc jockeys and beef giveaways.

After buying her roast, Rodriguez wheeled her grocery cart past a tent outside the Gigante market in Pico Rivera, a working-class suburb of Los Angeles. Workers from a Latin music station blasted music and hyped “carne de res” — beef.

Similar promotions throughout the summer will offer beef recipe books and raffle tickets for a $500 barbecue grill.

“It’s an opportunity to reach them and to push them toward beef and maybe away from the other competing meats they might have as a choice,” said Bill Jackson, a Central Valley rancher who chairs the beef council.

Beef producers are trying to hold on to as much business as possible as consumption declines.

In 2005, Americans ate 62.9 pounds of beef per capita, down from 73.8 pounds 20 years earlier, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Annual chicken consumption grew from 35.3 pounds to 59.2 pounds per person during that period.

The federal agency did not track beef sales by ethnic groups. But the beef council said Hispanic shoppers spend 33 percent more on beef than non-Hispanics. They also eat beef four or five times a week, compared to other groups that have it two or three times a week.

“Beef has a high value within the Latino eating culture,” Melgar-Quinonez said.

Mexicans are likely to eat even more beef after they immigrate to America to work and find themselves able to afford more of it, he said.

New Hispanic arrivals also have different ideas about what is healthy, said David Morse, whose multicultural market research firm New American Dimensions examined Hispanic eating preferences in Texas.

The newcomers are more concerned about preservatives and other additives in processed foods than about fat, he said.

“When they’re talking about ’healthy,’ they mean food that’s prepared fresh,” he said. “’Healthy’ means it was bought at the butcher today; ’healthy’ means ’I made it myself.”’

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