RICE IS CORRALING AS ANGUS BEEF EXCLUSIVE

HOUSTON -- Rice Epicurean Markets here has the Houston exclusive on a new label of Angus Beef reserved for exceptionally tender and flavorful cuts of choice beef.New Premium Gold Angus Beef, sold in a full range of cuts from porterhouse and rib eye to New York strip and London broil, made its debut Jan. 29 at all seven Rice Epicurean Markets here. It has been available at the Central Market in Austin

HOUSTON -- Rice Epicurean Markets here has the Houston exclusive on a new label of Angus Beef reserved for exceptionally tender and flavorful cuts of choice beef.

New Premium Gold Angus Beef, sold in a full range of cuts from porterhouse and rib eye to New York strip and London broil, made its debut Jan. 29 at all seven Rice Epicurean Markets here. It has been available at the Central Market in Austin since June 1996.

In its first few days in the stores, Premium Gold "sold four to five times better than the other Angus" that Rice used to carry, said Ron Shernak, Rice Epicurean Markets' director of meat operations. "We did demos in two stores and almost sold out of what we had," he noted.

"I am looking for this to be a huge success, much better than regular choice and much improved over the other Angus beef that we've been carrying," said Shernak.

Rice Epicurean Markets has a two-year exclusive on Premium Gold Angus, according to Gary West, the vice president of Premium Gold Angus.

The retailer is aggressively promoting the product line. In addition to signs and taste demonstrations, "we have it on the front page of our mailer and on the inside of a two-page foldout,"said Shernak.

Before Rice started carrying Premium Gold, "we were primarily on a choice beef program supplemented by Angus," explained Shernak. Now it's vice versa. "We are making Premium Gold Angus our primary beef in the butcher shop and sales area, as well as prominently displaying it in the self-service."

With the addition of Premium Gold Angus, Shernak hoped to "increase our beef tonnage as much as 40% in the short term."

Sales prospects look positive, judging by the Austin-based Central Market's sales record with Premium Gold Angus over the past nine months.

Howard Miller, the director of procurement at Central Market, said that he had sold about 15,000 pounds of Premium Gold Angus during the holidays and that sales had increased by 20% since Central started carrying the brand. Although Central Market does not use the Premium Gold Angus label on its Premium Gold beef, it does supplement advertising in its newsletter and weekly flier with in-store demonstrations of the beef line.

Premium Gold's goal is to provide a consistently high-quality beef, through the inspection and genetic analysis of its animals, which West said sets it apart from other Angus programs.

"If 10 people eat a steak, hopefully all of them will be happy," said West.

Further expansion is planned in Texas. Roy Pope Grocery & Market, Fort Worth, was slated to have received its first shipment of Premium Gold last week, according to West, who added he is also trying to get Premium Gold into the Albertson's chain in Austin.

On the national and international level, Premium Gold Angus will be marketed in New York and Chicago by Ada Beef of Grand Rapids, Mich., and exported abroad by the San Antonio-based Agri-West International, said Premium Gold's West. He cautioned, however, that "we don't want to flood the market. This is quality beef and we don't have that many animals."