Technology has opened the borders of the world, allowing everyone to visit and do business in almost every corner of the Earth. From Internet advertising and promotion to social media, there is an opportunity to reach a variety of potential clients in seconds.
Agriculture has been a bit guilty of traditionally looking at life and at business from within the confines of personal fences. And, in the beef industry, a heavy focus on the production task at hand may have left industry somewhat blind to the opportunities.
Business has changed. Today producers can communicate with their clients electronically, take the order and have the product in the buyer s hands by the next morning via FedEx or commercial shipment. Payment and contract terms can be instant as is feedback. And, just as problems are sure to be flagged within seconds, so can solutions be offered or delivered. In this fast-paced environment, it may seem to be a bit of a stretch to say that the beef industry can participate. We do after all have a perishable product that is traditionally sold over long conversations and a drink of whiskey. However quaint or terribly boring, it is all in absolute contrast to how the end-user buys food.
In the latest study of European consumers, 32 per cent use their phone to search for product from retailers and a full 47 per cent use their phone to compare prices. This alone indicates that buyers of food, including beef, are searching for product and price literally virtually and often on route to the store. The retailer with the most captivating electronic invitation or most exclusive product will capture the potential sale.
Across all demographics, 75 per cent of consumers say they intend to buy all their groceries online. This is a staggering statistic because it translates into a purchase based on promise, reputation or price rather than an actual visual evaluation of the product. In this shift, it will be the story of beef that captures the buyer s interest and the reputation of the product that keeps the buyer coming back. That cycle will be aided by social media where friends share their shopping and eating experiences. One good experience shared could dramatically increase both traffic and sales while a poor experience could cripple product sales and retail visits.
The reality is that global villages are really not all that far apart considering that 80 per cent of the world s people live within 60 km of a shoreline. To say that the urban trend toward e-commerce does not affect the beef industry is folly. More than 80 per cent of the world is urban and has the ability to make choices and purchases based on Internet information.
The demands for beef are clear as consumers repeatedly ask for hormone-free, fresh local product that carries lots of information on the package, including cooking instructions, and is convenient to prepare. Those criteria are not all that hard to meet and yet the meat counter has not changed. A sea of red greets the consumer with little direction on what to buy, why to buy it, how to prepare it and an invitation or incentive to return. In this shrinking world, each street reflects a global village. Those cultural and ethnic needs both domestically and internationally have been ignored by the Canadian beef industry. As outdated as the old way of selling commercial beef, it s an antiquated assumption that immigrants or those wishing to explore ethnic taste will simply conform to the old way of preparing traditional cuts. In addition, the beef counter has not set itself apart to be something of a high-end experience that the consumer would love to talk about on Facebook, Twitter or other form of social media.
The idea of Canadian beef being a high-end specialty and hard-to-obtain product is worth exploring. If we look at the global trend toward high-end branded products, we could easily retrofit beef to be in this class. The affluent are now 15 years younger and ready for gastronomic experiences. They seek a unique product that sets them apart the idea of belonging to some special class or club. The reality is that the fastest-growing area of retail is in high-end product. Sales in luxury brands globally this year expect to increase to US$252 billion.
This is reflected in North America as well. One may assume that the top 10 retailers in North America that carry high-end product with definite brand recognition would be in fashion. Surprisingly, technology is first followed by fashion, entertainment and food. The top 10 North American retailers, based on sales per square foot are Apple, Tiffany, Coach, Lululemon, GameStop, Signet, and Costco, Polo Ralph Lauren, Whole Foods and Best Buy. Both Costco and Whole Foods are known for their quality meat products. This is proof that a traditionally produced perishable product can compete in upper-class retail.
The Canadian beef industry is very quickly running out of excuses for lacklustre interest in its product. From a global perspective they are a small, agile and high-quality industry with world-class quality assurances and workable traceability. They have what it takes in dedicated producers and core product but lack creative direction in processing and marketing that would capture digital opportunity in every corner of the globe.
BrendaSchoeppisamarketanalystandtheownerandauthorofBeeflink,anationalbeefcattlemarketnewsletter.Aprofessionalspeakerandindustrymarketandresearchconsultant,sheranchesnearRimbey,Alberta. [email protected]