TGI Friday's has announced it will now only serve antibiotic and hormone-free burgers.  The announcement, prompted by customer concerns, signals a shift for the entire casual dining sector. Although the US has so far avoided mad cow and foot and mouth disease, food service companies will have to turn increasingly to organic and cruelty-free meat sources to address consumer safety and health issues.

TGI Friday's, the popular restaurant chain with 700 stores stateside and additional locations worldwide, will now serve burgers made only from beef that is free of antibiotics or growth hormones. TGI Friday's has selected Meyer Natural Angus, which raises cattle without the use of hormones or antibiotics, as its supplier.

Although the US has so far avoided BSE ('mad cow') and foot and mouth disease, consumer concern has nonetheless dampened the meat market. Red meat production grew only 0.05% in 2000, compared to 4.4% in 1998 and 2.2% in 1999, while production of pork, lamb and mutton have all fallen in the past year, according to the USDA.

The announcement comes on the heels of underwhelming sales news from hamburger giants Burger King and McDonalds. Burger King's parent company Diageo has released half-year sales figures showing that sales at the chain's 11,000-plus worldwide restaurants remain below prior-year levels.

TGI Friday's has said it is reacting to concern among the nearly one million customers each month who order burgers at the chain. "The introduction of this innovative product is a direct response to our guests' desire for great-tasting food made with the finest ingredients," said John Gilbert of TGI Friday's parent company, Carlson.

Datamonitor's 'Next Generation Organics' report shows that the market for natural/organic products, including organic meats, is growing faster than typical grocery and meat products, driven in large part by consumer health concerns. By 2005, the US market for organic products will reach $18 billion annually, up from $7.7 billion in 2000.

TGI Friday's move, a first among sit-and-serve establishments, signals a shift for the entire $26 billion casual-dining segment. McDonald's and Burger King, following suit, have committed themselves to buying beef from suppliers who adhere to strict animal-welfare guidelines.

With the livestock situation likely to get worse before it gets better, especially among impressionable consumer minds, US dining establishments would be wise to heed TGI Friday's example, addressing growing health and safety concerns by offering organic and cruelty-free beef alternatives.

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To view related research reports, please follow the links below:-

Handbook of Meat Product Technology

The 2000-2005 World Outlook for Red Meat