Last week was the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s annual convention. It’s a big time deal and I am proud I got to be a part of it. I had lots of good experiences, met lots of good folks, and got some new things to think about.
A man from McDonald’s gave an interesting talk on the sustainability commitment that the company has made. The most interesting thing that I found was that favorable public perception for the fast food giant was very low. The customer has spoken and they are trying to do something about it. They may not know exactly what to do, but they are working on it and I bet they will figure it out.
The A&W burger joints in Canada have gone to all natural beef. They even go so far as to feature the main suppliers and the sustainable practices they use. To learn more about what they are doing check out: www.awbetterbeef.ca
Several companies have been able to already convince or capitalize on the more affluent members of society about sustainability and create or satisfy a customers needs for organic or natural labeled foods. I did not know if this was a trend or a fad, because it was a pretty niche market.
I used to get kind of a big kick out of going to the natural food store in Helena, Montana to shop with my wife. We had a big old diesel pickup with a bale bed and brush guard and it would really stand out in the parking lot full of Subarus.
You are supposed to bring your own bags to these stores and I had lots of them from all the cattle trade shows I was involved in. The trouble was they had been given out by all the drug companies. You will get some looks in the natural health care isle if you are putting natural cold remedies in a bag with a cattle vaccine logo on it.
Just me being in the store with a cowboy hat on created quite a lot of stress. I would seek out the folks that seemed to be the most opposite of me and ask them questions or try to get them to help me. Some would be a little hard to catch up with. At the check out line it was really interesting because so many of the folks had to stay there with me and felt uncomfortable knowing I was a rancher and just maybe a republican. Most of them had a brace up against me, but if I smiled and asked them some question or complemented them on something they would talk to me, and a few of them would even look at me.
My point is that I was very different in my lifestyle from the people that chose to shop in this store. They were skeptical of me and I had to make a big effort to change the way they perceived me.
The reusable bag with a medicine bottle and a syringe picture carried by a guy with a cowboy hat and manure on his boots was just as sustainable as the the guy with the tattoos and nose rings and the hemp bag. I was reusing a bag and expressing my lifestyle through my appearance the same as him. We may have been more alike than either of us thought. Or maybe not …
It sure looks to me like the sustainable movement is not only here to stay, but is growing at a very rapid pace. When Walmart and McDonald’s are marketing to the customer as sustainable it’s pretty hard to deny it.
The funny thing is after the seminar I heard lots of negative talk about this whole sustainability thing. It confuses me as to why beef producers don’t understand that we produce a product for a customer. Most of us don’t sell directly to to the consumer so we hire someone to do it for us (i.e. Walmart and McDonald’s). I am pretty sure they know what the customer wants but we don’t seem to want to listen.
Most people don’t see when a bull is on the fight or a horse is going to buck them off, until they have been run over or bucked off a few times. They just could not see it shaping up.
I don’t know how it’s going to shape up, but sustainability is an important concept for our consumer of beef. If we can’t see this by now we are about to get run over and bucked off hard.
My grandfather always said we need to “separate our wants from our needs.” People don’t have to or need to eat beef. We in the beef industry “need” to get consumers to “want” to eat beef. They are telling us what they want and we need to listen. Enjoy it and profit from it.
~ Curt Pate