Many packing plants in an industry at 10% to 15% excess capacity have tried to increase efficiency by increasing the upper limit on HCW and decreased discounts for those just over the line.
In response, the feeding industry more broadly adopted the use of beta-agonists. Those may decrease marbling scores, Stika said, but the best way to mitigate their negative impacts is to feed cattle longer.
"How are we going to take these cattle once they've hit the plant and add value, or remove the discount that's associated with them today?" he asked.
The industry has already made some adjustments on everything from how many pieces of meat go in a box to cutting methods.
"Retail doesn't use a lot of forklifts and is heavily dominated by unionized labor, so there are certain limits in terms of what those boxes can weigh," Stika said.
Labor challenges are also part of the problem at foodservice where 75% of restaurants still cut their own steaks, but there's a developing trend toward breaking down some popular subprimals to smaller cuts.
"You've got some different options that are starting to catch on very nicely at foodservice, but it's not the end-all and be-all," Stika said. "You have higher production costs and lower product yield."
Down the road, packing plants are looking at more ways to reduce variation.
"How do we make sure the smallest rib that we have is not in the same box with the heaviest rib?" Stika asked. That's one common break in boxed beef already, between the largest ribeye areas and the smallest. But it's not just about the middle meats, he said, and the range in product difference continues to grow as carcasses do. Plant logistics and inventory management are the biggest hurdles to implementation.
So are increasing carcass weights an opportunity or a challenging issue?
"The answer is, it's reality," Stika said, "and probably a little of both. It's allowed us to maintain beef production levels with fewer numbers, but the issues we have are real. If we want to continue to drive beef demand forward, we've got to continue to provide more value to our consumer if we're going to expect them to pay more for it."
Source: Certified Angus Beef