A wider price gap between Select grade boxed beef and Choice or better—the Choice/Select spread—always comes back to supply and demand. Consumers vote with their dollars, and recent shifts in merchandising put much more high-quality beef on the ballot, just as those supplies began to fall off.

Asked to comment on implications, JBS USA officers noted supplies of Choice beef had been on the rise, at prices not much above Select. That helped entice marketers to offer better beef to millions more shoppers by this fall, and now the wider price spread signals producers to boost supply.

“The retail channel in particular is making more impact than it has in the past on the spread,” says Tyler Brown, JBS premium program manager. Historically, that’s driven by foodservice, he adds, but retailers today want to offer more quality and consistency. “They’re looking at higher grading programs to do that.”