This study was designed to explore consumers' perceptions about and knowledge of USDA beef quality grades. Data were collected from over 1,000 consumers in online surveys in November and December 2013, and estimates were weighted to force the sample to mirror the U.S. population in terms of age, gender, education, and region of residence. When asked to rank Prime, Choice, and Select grades in terms of leanness, only 14.4% provided the correct ranking with 57.1% of respondents incorrectly indicating steaks grading Prime were the leanest. Despite perceptions that the Prime name indicated the leanest product, in a subsequent question, 55.6% of respondents thought Prime grade to be the juiciest of the 3 grades. In addition to inquiring about perceptions of the grade names, respondents also indicated perceptions of pictures of steaks. Only 14.5% of respondents correctly matched the steak pictures with their corresponding USDA quality grade name, an outcome that is statistically worse than would have occurred through pure random matching (P = 0.03). When asked to match pictures of steaks with expected prices, 54.8% of respondents incorrectly matched the picture of the Prime steak with the lowest price level. More highly educated consumers with greater preferences for steak consumption were more likely to provide correct answers. Results reveal substantial confusion over quality grading nomenclature and suggest the need for more education or for a transition toward more descriptive terminology at the retail level.
Keywords: USDA quality grades; beef quality; consumer research; marbling.