Burger King is working with franchisees to reduce restaurant costs as well. Carrols Restaurant Group, Burger King's biggest U.S. franchisee, noted that its beef costs were up 32 percent in the latest quarter from a year ago.
Wendy's on Thursday also announced a plan to cut costs by $30 million to offset challenges, which include rising beef costs. Spokesman Bob Bertini declined to specify how Wendy's is adjusting its marketing strategy to deal with rising beef costs. But he said "our varied core menu with many chicken and salad options gives us options."
To drive customer traffic in the U.S., McDonald's said it's working to keep prices down despite its rising costs for ingredients. To counter pressures, which include weak sales, McDonald's Chief Financial Officer Pete Bensen said the company is working with third-party experts to analyze its cost structure, including staffing levels.
That doesn't mean fast-food customers will be shielded from rising beef costs entirely. Chipotle raised prices nationally by about an average of 6 percent this past year, with the company citing higher costs for ingredients, including beef. But Chipotle is enjoying strong sales growth and is more confident about its ability to raise prices without scaring off customers.
Companies aren't expecting higher beef prices to ease up anytime soon.
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John Harrington, publisher of Hastings, Nebraska-based Feel of the Market who analyzes the cattle market, said livestock producers are just starting to replenish their herds after a drought in recent years. As such, he doesn't expect prices to ease until 2017.
"It just takes so long—two to three years to a breed a cow. You have to get the calf on the ground, grow the calf and then butcher the animal," Harrington said.