CHICAGO — Consumers say on average four out of every five meals they eat contains some type of meat, but that may change with rising meat costs impacting prices at restaurants, according to the market research firm Technomic.

“Rising prices for beef — and to a lesser degree, pork — will have direct implications for operators and suppliers through 2013,” said Darren Tristano, vice-president of Technomic. “It’s vital for suppliers and operators to work together in keeping meat products cost-effective. Opportunities are emerging to explore different cuts of meat and develop innovative applications that cross-utilize beef and pork across the menu.”

Technomic found in its “2013 center of the plate: Beef and pork consumer trend report” that 77% of consumers said they will change their behavior regarding beef dishes at restaurants if prices were to increase. Additionally, 49% of consumers said they would order beef items less often, and 43% said they would dine out less often if beef dishes increased in price at restaurants.

Yet consumers still desire to have affordable meat options.

“The vast majority of consumers report they anticipate purchasing beef at restaurants three months from now at the same rate as they do now,” Technomic said. “Consumers who expect to purchase beef more often at restaurants say this is because they want to try new beef items. This signals room for operators and suppliers to experiment with new beef offerings and use unique ingredients and flavors that can satisfy consumer demand while also justifying higher price points.”

Nearly half of the consumers surveyed said they have noticed the prices of beef dishes at restaurants increasing over the last year, yet just one-fifth of consumers agree they are ordering non-beef dishes more often to save money. Consumers who expect they would act differently if the price of the dishes were to increase are most likely to say they would order beef items less often. More than two-fifths of consumers said a price increase of $1.50 to $2 for a beef dish would be enough for them to change their behavior.

Consumers are willing to pay more for beef products with natural production methods and eco-friendly practices, especially those with steroid, hormone and antibiotic-free claims.

Other findings in the report include a greater proportion of older consumers’ meals contain some type of meat compared with younger consumers. Consumers said when presented with an option of protein for a menu offering they order the item with beef or steak about 33% of the time, order the items with chicken 29% of the time, while 12% of the time they order the item with fish or other seafood, and 9% of the time they order pork. Sixty-five per cent of consumers say they enjoy pork served with sweet/honey barbecue sauces, glazes and marinades with 64% of consumers preferring hickory and 58% enjoying smoky flavors. Consumer preference for sweet, tangy and chipotle-flavor barbecue sauces is on the rise.