After price, consumers consider the color of meat as key buying considerations. If it's discolored, grocery stores lose an estimated $1 million annually because of marked-down meat, says University of Missouri meat scientist Bryon Wiegand.
Stores are now absorbing even more of that cost thanks to consumer preference, Wiegand notes – the price gap between premium-priced meats and lower-quality ground product continues to narrow as consumers increasingly prefer ground beef for convenience.
Currently the shelf-life of ground beef is about three days. Extending that by one day can make a big difference because shoppers typically fall into two categories: planners and demand shoppers.
Planners, MU says, shop for weekly meals on Sunday. Demand shoppers shop Thursday to Saturday. This set-up leaves one day in the middle of the week when ground beef loses its red appeal and stores lose sales.
Changes in meat color and odor result from a variety of causes, including fat content, packaging and exposure to oxygen. Heat from store lighting in display cases also causes color fade.
Wiegand and others at the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and MU Extension are studying how retailers can keep beef on the shelf a day longer before it's discounted for quick sale.
Wiegand and colleague Carol Lorenzen studied meat color changes under fluorescent and LED lights. Colors were compared against a control group with no light exposure. Meat not subjected to light kept its red color better than either, but meat under LED lights fared better than fluorescent-lit ground beef.
Fluorescent lights produced higher temperatures than LED lights and meat turned brown quicker.
Wiegand's information may help retailers reduce losses as low supply and high demand intersect. "If beef is the new gold, let's do our best to preserve it for the consumer that stays loyal to its purchase," he said.