With basic cuts of chicken, beef and pork available at most supermarkets for a cheaper cost, consumers are veering away from their local butchers in favour of more affordable meat, one butcher says.
Buying your meat at big-box retailer Costco can save as much as CAD $20 per kilogram for a ribeye steak.
Canadian beef is graded on the A scale, with grades A, AA, AAA, then prime, which is the best cut of meat.
While AA meat is not bad for you, the quality is not as good as it could be. According to Beef Research Canada, this is because the meat has less marbling, meaning it has much more muscle fibre than fat. AAA and prime cuts tend to have a more desirable level of marbling for flavour.
Some consumers don’t know the difference. “I didn’t know it went to AAA, I thought AA meant it was double good,” Danforth local Demitria Lambiris said. “At the supermarket, I just get what they have, and I just bought some AA meat right now.”
What’s the difference?
“It’s kind of confusing, I didn’t know I’d have to know this before buying groceries,” Lambiris said.
According to Campbells meat, butchery dates back 400,000 years. But these days, with consumers not being aware of the value of high-quality cuts of meat, butchers are seeing less business.
“Well, convenience and price play a big factor,” said Colin Jones, butcher at Bespoke Butchers at 458 Danforth Ave. “If you make minimum wage, but you’re told that grass-fed AAA beef is better for you and your family, whereas if you go to a grocer and buy four steaks for $20, I know what I would do.”
Butcher shops are strategically located
Bespoke Butchers provides all organic meat products and have multiple storefronts throughout Toronto. While it is more expensive than supermarket meat, they value delivering high quality meat straight to your doorstep.
“Butcher shops are placed pretty strategically to try to take the big restaurants and big foot traffic,” Jones said. “There’s a dinner crowd for restaurants. But for shop, it’s like the go home and make dinner crowd.”
The home delivery service also helps to offset losses to supermarkets, Jones said.
“A chuck or a picanha [rump] cut are a lot cheaper than a sirloin and they taste just as good,” Jones said. “You don’t see those cuts at the supermarket that often; you usually just get what they choose, and they are going to choose what makes the most money.”
According to Food in Canada’s 2020 industry report, “annual domestic demand for animal protein has waned to 61 kg today from 66 kg a generation ago.” This means that consumers have less interest in meat as a source of protein, which could explain consumer ignorance about beef grading.
According to Statistics Canada the price of beef has increased since the pandemic. The chart below illustrates the increase in the price of steak from 2020 to 2022.