LEKAN
Aynsley Floyd  /  AP file
Most retail prices climbed slightly in April, while consumer beef demand increased 10.4 percent in the first quarter, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association said.
updated 5/20/2004 2:33:43 PM ET 2004-05-20T18:33:43

Consumers will probably have to pull a bit more out of their pocketbooks for burgers and steaks to put on the grill this summer.

Most retail prices climbed slightly in April, while consumer beef demand — a combined measure of price and per capita consumption — increased 10.4 percent in the first quarter, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association said Wednesday.

The blame can be placed largely on the multiyear drought in the West, where less grass has been available to feed cattle. In turn, herds have not expanded to meet demand for four to five years, association chief economist Gregg Doud said.

Other factors are the recovering economy that is prompting consumers to spend more and the popularity of high-protein diets, he said.

"I don't see much of a change in the supply-and-demand equation here through, quite frankly, the end of the year," he said.

In the January-March period, overall production declined 7 percent, Doud said.

Consumption was down about 1.4 percent in the same period, said Jim Robb, director of the Livestock Marketing Information Center.

In April, retail beef prices climbed in most categories, association figures showed.

For example, ground chuck increased to $2.49 a pound from $2.21 in April 2003; boneless round steak, $4.06 a pound, up from $3.74; boneless sirloin steak, $6.61 a pound, up from $4.58. Boneless chuck roast dropped to $3.23 from $3.40.

"Consumers are willing to consume the same amount at higher prices," Robb said. "If there is only a smaller supply available, they're willing to pay even more."

Association surveys indicated consumers remained confident in the safety of beef products nearly six months after the first U.S. case of mad cow disease was confirmed in Washington.

Prices on the live cattle market were in the high 80-cent range per pound this week. The price was 91 cents a pound on Dec. 23 when the case was announced publicly, and it then dropped as low as 73 cents, Doud said.

"What this clearly demonstrates is the U.S. economy is very, very strong because you can never talk about beef prices in a vacuum," he said "Pork and poultry also have seen very strong prices."

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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