January 23, 2002 | By: Aimee D. Heald

In the past few years, producers, consumers and agricultural economists from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture have been part of a research effort to determine potential opportunities of locally produced meat.

“We have felt it was important to seek new opportunities for our producers,” said Lee Meyer, UK agricultural economist. “But, we’ve also tried to be realistic because it is painful for farmers to invest in an area and then find out markets don’t support their endeavor.”

Meyer said research included a survey of consumers, restaurant managers and chefs to identify what consumers want, why they want it, and their willingness to pay in comparison to commercially produced products. Meyer worked with fellow agricultural economist Leigh Maynard, Benjy Mikel, UK meats specialist and Kenny Burdine, UK agricultural Extension associate, to facilitate panels of consumers and trained “tasters,” as well as a chefs’ focus group to gain information.

“Among restaurants, ‘fine-dining’ establishments seem to show the most potential,” he said. “They are less price conscious and more flexible when it comes to cuts and deliveries. However, they do have price constraints and are concerned about product consistency.”

The consumer taste panel revealed a preference for locally-produced ground beef, but still gave an edge to commercially-produced chicken breasts. Meyer said more than half of the panel stated a willingness to pay up to 20 percent more for local products.

“Willingness to pay was most highly correlated with a perception that local meats are higher quality meats,” he added. “For chicken, it was a food safety issue. But since there was not a perception of freshness, convenience and other direct attributes, we concluded that an important reason for the price premium is to support local farmers.”

Meyer, Maynard and Burdine’s survey revealed many things about consumer attitudes. Meyer said consumers with children tended to report a higher willingness to pay for local meat, however those same consumers were more likely to shop only at mainstream grocery stores.

“This suggests that getting local products placed in supermarkets is going to be necessary if we are going to capture the potentially higher price from this group,” he said. “However, specialty shops would fit other types of buyers.”

Researchers said they still need to learn more about willingness to pay since respondents sometimes respond the way they would like to act, rather than the way they actually make purchases.

“We are confident that producers who target markets carefully, in particular the fine-dining establishments and certain consumer groups, can capture a price premium,” Meyer added. “It’s probably going to be around 20 percent.”

The challenge for producers in the future will be getting locally produced products efficiently and conveniently processed.


Lee Meyer  859-257-7272, ext. 228