Record beef prices see FTB volumes increase, albeit slowly: Cargill

Is finely textured beef staging a comeback?

Cargill's Michael Martin on the slow volume growth of finely textured beef: "While we have more customers (about 400) that purchase FTB or ground beef than we did in 2012, the number includes many smaller volume customers than prior to March 2012.”

Could record ground beef prices in the US mean a return to finely textured beef (FTB)? 

Two years after the “pink slime” media storm sent retailers and manufacturers running and forced suppliers to significantly scale back production of its lean ground beef product known as finely textured beef, Cargill says its FTB volumes have climbed back to 60% of pre-2012 levels.

“While Cargill’s FTB volume is growing, it is growing slowly,” Michael Martin, Cargill’s director of communications, told FoodNavigator-USA. “Our FTB business is at about 60% of capacity right now. While we have more customers (about 400) that purchase FTB or ground beef than we did in 2012, the number includes many smaller volume customers than prior to March 2012.” 

The decision by leading food manufacturers, retailers and foodservice firms to drop FTB in 2012 as the unsavory “pink slime” moniker gained momentum forced the nation's largest manufacturer, Beef Products Inc. (BPI), to shut down three of its plants and put more than 700 people out of work in 2013.

It also resulted in “about 80% of Cargill’s FTB business disappearing,” Martin claimed, adding that it was a contributing factor in the decision to idle the company’s Plainview, TX, beef processing plant on Feb. 1, 2013, which resulted in the loss of more than 2,000 jobs. He also cited the pink slime frenzy as the primary reason Cargill closed a smaller FTB facility in the Los Angeles area, which displaced a few dozen employees.

Ground beef prices hit record levels; FTB much cheaper to produce

But in the time since, rising grain costs and drought conditions in the western US have led to significant price increases for ground beef. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average price of ground beef in the US jumped 12% in the past year alone to reach $3.884 per pound, the highest ever recorded.

FTB—typically used to increase the amount of lean protein in ground beef—is produced with actual beef, though the costs associated are much lower than with using real beef cuts.

Asked if Cargill thought FTB would eventually return to pre-2012 volumes, particularly given the jump in ground beef prices, Martin replied, “We don’t speculate.”

Still, the supplier has taken steps to reassure consumers in the wake of the “misleading, inflammatory and inaccurate information” surrounding FTB by creating, a website where consumers can get information and ask questions about FTB.

The site contains videos demonstrating how FTB is produced; and illustrates the role of FTB in animal welfare (by maximizing the amount of lean beef harvested from each animal, Martin claims), sustainability (reducing the need for more resources including more cattle, more water, more feed, more pastureland, etc.) and helping to keep ground beef more affordable.

“The last point is particularly relevant to consumers at a time when beef prices are at, or near, all-time highs due to the beef cattle herd being depleted from recent drought conditions,” Martin said. “The herd is at the lowest number since 1951.”

Cargill also conducted a survey of 3,000 consumers who purchase ground beef, through which the supplier learned that consumers prefer to know what’s in their food.

“Our consumer research learnings told us once people understand what FTB is and how it is made, they have no issue with the product or the process used to produce it,” he said. “We did learn that consumers would prefer to have ground beef containing FTB—even though the latter is beef—labeled. That learning evolved into our November 2013 announcement to voluntarily label Cargill-branded, fresh, ground beef we produce at our beef processing plants.” (See related story here.)

Related News

Lean finely textured beef has been used to increase the amount of lean muscle meat in ground beef for 20 years. Picture: BPI's website

Cargill: Production of finely textured beef still significantly below where it was before the ‘pink slime’ debaclé

Judge refuses to throw out pink slime suit

Judge refuses to throw out pink slime suit

CSPI urges dismissal of ‘pink slime’ lawsuit

CSPI urges dismissal of ‘pink slime’ lawsuit

LFTB lawsuit one year on: BPI, ABC await state judge’s decision

LFTB lawsuit one year on: BPI, ABC await state judge’s decision

Related Products

See more related products

Comments (2)

suzy badaracco - 07 Sep 2014 | 09:27

Pink slime worry maps

This topic would be perfect for someone to conduct a Worry Map around. A Worry Map is a type of survey designed to uncover real verses perceived consumer fears. The work then give direction to correct any unfounded fears.

07-Sep-2014 at 21:27 GMT

Randy Dutton - 05 Sep 2014 | 01:34

Pink Slime shortstory

LFTB saves resources but is that the real issue? In the research I conducted for my short story 'Pink Slime', the first title of my Muckraker Series, I found the mental imagery defies the logic. Environmentalists should be promoting LFTB because it reduces overall cattle needed to fulfill American beef needs. With a small beef herd of my own, I know how much waste can be generated when carving off the best cuts -- my dogs appreciate the remnants. But my story speculates on a ulterior environmentalist motive behind their demonizing Pink Slime.

05-Sep-2014 at 01:34 GMT

Submit a comment

Your comment has been saved

Post a comment

Please note that any information that you supply is protected by our Privacy and Cookie Policy. Access to all documents and request for further information are available to all users at no costs, In order to provide you with this free service, William Reed Business Media SAS does share your information with companies that have content on this site. When you access a document or request further information from this site, your information maybe shared with the owners of that document or information.