AKRON, Ohio -- Upscale West Point Market here is likely to become the first operator in the country to carry Piedmontese beef, an Italian breed that was recently approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is reported to have significantly lower fat and cholesterol levels than other beef.
"Ounce for ounce Piedmontese has less cholesterol than breast of chicken," explained Russel Vernon, the owner of West Point Market. "And there isn't a trade-off in flavor or texture.
"Piedmontese is the answer for someone who likes beef and is chickened or fished out," Vernon said. "People who are concerned about cholesterol but enjoy beef are our market." He said he hoped to have Piedmontese in stock by mid-June in time for grilling season.
According to an analysis carried out Industrial Laboratories, Denver, for the Denver-based Piedmontese Association of the United States -- a nonprofit organization founded in 1984 that registers and tracks full-blooded Piedmontese -- 3.5 ounces of untrimmed full-blooded Piedmontese have 36-mg of cholesterol compared with conventional beef's 68.54-mg and skinless roast chicken's 75-mg.
The same quantity of Piedmontese was found to have 1.7 grams of fat and 95 calories compared with conventional beef's 11.3 grams of fat and 251 calories and skinless roast chicken's 7 grams of fat and 167 calories.
"I think it gives health-conscious people a chance to put red meat in a good, balanced diet," said Roger Chenevey, the president of Ameri-Pied Beef, Mansfield, Ohio, a newly formed company marketing and distributing Piedmontese in the United States.
Vernon wagered that the arrival of Piedmontese might even pose a risk to poultry's hold on the low-cholesterol market sector. "People who have denied themselves beef may have it more than once a month," he said.
Vernon also concluded that Piedmontese's presence on the market could also take business away from other beef breeds and brands, by winning over customers who formerly bought conventional beef. "Initially they'd go from beef to beef, instead of one category to another," he reasoned.
Chenevey of Ameri-Pied Beef, however, didn't agree with Vernon that the availability of Piedmontese would hurt the sales of other breeds. "It could up total meat consumption," he countered. "I wouldn't think it would dig into other meats, but would help stem the erosion of beef in your diet."
Chenevey explained that the animals have small bone structure, more meat to the pound and much less fat in terms of marbling. "When you try that with other animals you get leaner meat but it's rubbery. Piedmontese can have that reduced marbling but still be tender and juicy."
Vernon of West Point affirmed that one of Piedmontese's best attributes as a breed was its winning combination of low cholesterol and fat levels, paired with delicious flavor and texture.
The amalgamation of such appealing traits comes at no small cost, however. Chenevey estimated that Piedmontese will cost "25% to 30% more than regular beef. And it'll probably be 15% to 20% more than Angus."
Vernon's estimates ran to what could be close to a dollar a pound more for steaks. "We are at $8.99 on our prime strips now, [and with Piedmontese] we could go into the $10 range."
Piedmontese beef is already available in a dozen countries worldwide.
PAUS Executive Director Mary Jo McCormick estimated there are 4,500 to 5,000 full-blooded Piedmontese in the United States.
With such limited numbers, "You can't afford to butcher the full-blood animal," said Ameri-Pied's Chenevey. In order to qualify for certification, animals need only be 50% Piedmontese, which allows for cross breeding with other types of cattle like Angus, Charolais, Hereford, Limousin and Simmental.
The use of hormones and antibiotics on Piedmontese isn't regulated. "We can't require [an all natural diet] because we aren't feeding the animals ourselves. We are recommending that the [320 registered Piedmontese producers] don't use antibiotics or hormones, but we can't control it," said Chenevey.
West Point's Vernon had no doubt that Piedmontese could compete against all-natural brands of beef like Coleman's, which he doesn't carry. "From a flavor and texture standpoint it's got Coleman's matched. It's as good or better."
West Point is slated to have an exclusive on Piedmontese in its area when it hits the market, a time frame that Ameri-Pied's Chenevey estimated to be closer to fall of '97 than Vernon's hoped-for June.
"We are hoping to slaughter and produce Piedmontese within a year, by as early as October," explained Chenevey. He said Piedmontese will be available in sides of beef, boxed beef in primal cuts and a 50-pound distributor box.
Vernon said that West Point "will do most of the steaks -- rib eye, sirloin, porterhouse and strip -- and perhaps a roast." He also expressed an interest in ground beef which he expected to "prepare here, while the rest will be in primal cuts, Cryovac.
"We will start off with 10% [of meat in the department being Piedmontese] to introduce it," said West Point's Vernon.
Despite his enthusiasm, he said that he didn't expect Piedmontese to account for a respective 10% of his sales until the public is better educated about it.
Piedmontese takes one-third less time to cook than regular beef, according to Chenevey, an essential fact about which butchers will need to make customers aware. These issues, according to Vernon, were being thoroughly covered by Piedmontese representatives in their regular visits to his 13-butcher staff, to talk about the special attributes and history of the breed.
Vernon explained that he would also be sending food editors and dietitians information about Piedmontese. He also intends to demo it on weekends, do some recipes, print brochures with his logo and have major signage and blowups of some material at his meat case.
Chenevey said that Ameri-Pied was also preparing educational brochures and recipes. He noted that merchandising samples, coupons at store locations and educational information and ads placed in the local papers and on television were all included in the promotional agenda.
Vernon said he could eventually see doing home-meal replacement with Piedmontese, perhaps three months or so after it was introduced. "I could see doing anything using beef. It could be a chili or some shepherd's pie type thing. I could see this in our Main Events Salads -- a meal in a bowl based on lettuces -- as rare thinly sliced beef with a vinaigrette with dry blue cheese and cherry tomatoes."
The accompanying price increases for Piedmontese-based HMR items, Vernon estimated, might be along the lines of an increase ranging from $7.49 to $7.69 a salad from the current price of $6.99. In the case of West Point's beef pot pie, which Vernon called a natural for Piedmontese, the price could go up to somewhere between $5.69 and $5.89 from a current price of $4.99.