The retail meat industry has changed significantly during the 50 years since John Genzler began his career.
“When I started almost every shop had good, high quality meat,” said Genzler, who recently retired as meat manager at Walt’s Food Store in Beecher and plans to work there on a part-time basis. “It was all USDA choice beef raised in feed lots on corn.”
But over the years, the industry has changed its grading system and its rating scale that looks at the amount of marbling in the meat to determines the grade, he said.
“About 35 to 40 years ago, they changed things,” said Genzler, who was a U.S. Army and U.S.D.A. meat inspector during the Vietnam War, then became a butcher and later a retail store meat manager. “What was ‘USDA Good’ was renamed to ‘Select.’ And they changed the requirement for the grade and the rating scale also dropped qualifications to make it easier to get into 'Choice' category.”
Prices and purchases also have changed.
“When I started in the early '60s, ground beef was three pounds for $1,” Genzler said. “When we made it 39 cents a pound, all hell broke loose. Now it’s $2.99 to $3.99 a pound on sale.”
People tastes have changed what stores are selling, he said.
“Sunday used to be a big day when we’d always have chicken or pot roast,” he said. “Now you can have chicken anytime. And people don’t have time to make big meals that take a long time to cook.”
Today, supermarkets receive meat in boxes rather than the “swinging” hindquarters and forequarters that store butchers would butcher into steaks, roast, or grind into hamburger, he said. Some of the national big-box stores now buy meat already cut and packaged for the meat case.
And markets can carry meat raised a world away, shipped frozen to the United States and then defrosted before being sold, Genzler said.
“You buy it and think it’s fresh, and then you refreeze it and that affects its quality,” Genzler said.
His tips for getting the best value for your dollar can be easily summarized: buy USDA-Certified meat; buy from a store that has its own butchers and has a good reputation, ask questions and read the labels on the meat package to see how much of what you’re buying is actually fat and where it was produced, buy U.S. produced products and don’t buy ground beef in tubes or meat that has been injected.
“When you but meat that’s been injected you could be paying for 30 percent water,” Genzler said. “That’s no bargain.”