• In Cargill’s meat plants, graders evaluate the quality and tenderness of beef products according to a strict set of standards.
  • To more precisely assess beef quality, Cargill introduces camera imaging technology in six of its North American plants in the 1990s.
  • On the screen, the ribeye from each carcass is evaluated for size, fat content (marbling) and other criteria, giving graders a more accurate picture of overall quality.
  • In facilities known as shear labs, Cargill’s technicians check the tenderness of beef products to ensure they meet the highest standards.

Leading the meat industry in quality


A commitment to research and innovative resources helps Cargill’s beef business set the standard for flavor and tenderness.

To ensure top-quality beef in commercial meat plants across the United States, employees of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) known as “graders” evaluate hundreds of processed cattle per hour. These specialists grade beef carcasses based on a number of details: color, marbling and the ratio of lean meat to fat, among other factors. Originally, this process was done without use of technology, but due to human subjectivity, the beef industry routinely encountered inconsistencies in grading.

In the 1990s, Cargill began exploring innovative methods to grade meat with greater accuracy and efficiency, and in effect, provide customers and consumers with greater consistency in the quality and taste of its beef products. The company took an industry-leading position when it implemented a new meat grading technology at six of its North American beef plants: camera imaging. Using sophisticated imaging technology and a program that evaluates the image of each ribeye, the federal graders obtained a more precise evaluation of each beef carcass. Soon after, the technology introduced by Cargill received approval from the USDA.

To further expand its beef quality and tenderness research program, Cargill began conducting thousands of tests each month at the Cargill Innovation Center in Wichita, Kansas. In 2013, the facility’s tenderness laboratory achieved a major first for a US processor: receiving the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service certification for its beef tenderness program. 

Today, Cargill offers nine unique beef brands that represent these quality standards. The company continues to innovate in all areas along the meat supply chain, from feed systems to processing to final packaging, consistently providing the superior taste and tenderness consumers expect from high-quality beef products. These innovations include the Rumba® meats brand, providing high-quality, specialty meat cuts that are an integral part of the traditions and cultures of multicultural consumers. Bill Buckner, Cargill’s senior vice president, explains: “It’s about…figuring out what it is the customers want, understanding different segments of consumers and deciding where we see opportunities, then customizing a customer solution.”