Is Grass-Fed Meat Worth Buying?

Several years ago, grass-fed meat basically burst onto the consumer meat-buying scene. It had been around long before; it just didn't get that much attention. But with concerns about antibiotics and feedlot conditions growing among shoppers, many smaller meat operations turned to grass-fed, pasture-raised, or organic-raised cows. This meat was touted as much healthier, and stores and suppliers both saw an increase in requests. But again, this type of meat can cost more, so is it worth it for shoppers to buy it, and more importantly, is it worth it for markets to stock it?

Increased Omega-3 Intake

The biggest, or at least the most frequently discussed, health benefit is the increased omega-3 fat content of grass-fed meat. Those cows get a chance to munch on omega-3-containing clover, which means their meat has a higher proportion of omega-3 fats. And it's true that grain-fed meat has a lower omega-3 content, which means the consumer's daily diet is going to be lower in omega-3s overall. So from a shopper standpoint, it could be worth it to spring for the more expensive grass-fed meat.

As for the store's standpoint, though, it's mixed. If there is shopper demand for the meat, it's worth stocking. If the store is hoping to market the meat based on its omega-3 content, that's a tossup because, for all the hype, grass-fed meat can't hold a candle to wild salmon for omega-3 content. Stores should gauge consumer demand before jumping in.

Less Antibiotic Residue

Grass-fed meat isn't residue free, but it does have less residue, which is still better than the levels you might find in conventional, grain-fed beef. Remember that grass-fed is not necessarily organic, and while most farms that produce grass-fed beef try to avoid antibiotic use anyway, some don't.

However, from both a shopper and store standpoint, this is a good reason to stock and buy grass-fed meat. The consumer is exposed less to unnecessary antibiotic residue, and the store sends a message to meat producers that less antibiotic use is better. Granted, there are situations in which an animal may actually need an antibiotic for an infection, but the less general antibiotic use there is, the better, and the store can send that message.

Increased Saturated Fat

This last attribute of grass-fed meat is likely unexpected by many. Grass-fed meat can have a higher saturated fat content than grain-fed. It's not by much, but it's noticeable and may be a turnoff for customers who do not want more saturated fat in their diet. However, if the store has customers who regularly buy heavily marbled, fatty cuts of beef, then the saturated fat content of grass-fed meat isn't that much of a concern.

Stores looking at whether to stock grass-fed meat should look at consumer demand and also at the message the store wants to send. Many meat suppliers are able to supply grass-fed meat easily, so once store managers make their decision, it will be simple to stock the refrigerator cases. Talk to your meat supplier for more information.