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By Published on .

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, facing continued share erosion in the meat category, is sharply curtailing its ad budget and focusing on convenience-oriented products.

The group said it's cutting ad spending by almost a third, to $13.5 million, moving at least $2 million of the $6.5 million in savings into a concerted program to guide beef producers into marketing value-added, pre-cooked branded beef.

The association will spend $2.5 million on the first two flights of the new effort, breaking today.

"Our ad spending is down fairly substantially from last year," said Mary McGinley Adolf, VP-U.S. consumer marketing. "We are trying to maximize the [marketing] dollars by investing in other areas such as product development and quality programs."


The ad focus, likewise, is changing from an emphasis on beef as a major dinner ingredient in last year's "Beef. It's what's for dinner" campaign to a more generalized pitch highlighting the way consumers crave the meat. The new tagline: "Beef. It's what you want."

The previous campaign "was not a disappointment," Ms. Adolf said, but missed the major point-that consumers are looking for fast, home meal solutions, not more time-consuming recipes.

The new effort keys in on a research finding that consumers view beef as what they "want to eat," while they view chicken as food they "should eat."

The resulting pool of three commercials from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, includes such scenes as people trying to sneak beef off others' plates at restaurants or covetously eyeing neighbors grilling steaks.


Perhaps the biggest change in strategy, however, is the push into prepared beef.

Mark Thomas, VP-new marketing initiatives at the cattlemen's group, said the goal is to mimic the success of products such as branded pre-packaged salads.

Mr. Thomas has been working with beef processors to come up with marketable prepared meat ideas. Among the new concepts are meal solutions requiring 15 minutes of preparation, using beef as the basic ingredient; a rotisserie beef product for delis and foodservice; a beef-based appetizer about to enter test; and a line of branded fresh beef.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association is unusual among meat industry associations in that most of its dollars have gone to ad campaigns pushing the industry.

But now, "We want private [beef producing] companies to step up and take on that [marketing] role," Ms. Adolf said.

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