Beef industry players encouraged by Beef Food Industry Summit discussions

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Representatives at a meeting on the state of the Canadian beef industry last November produced agreement that the status quo is not acceptable, but that more work is needed to bring the industry together.

“The hard part is coming up next,” said Gordon Cove, CEO and president of the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency.

ALMA organized the Canadian Beef Industry Summit in Calgary after a Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI) report said the nation’s beef industry was falling behind and missing opportunities because of a lack of a comprehensive strategy.

“ALMA thought there was at least a need to respond,” Cove said.

He said the meeting went well, pulling many members of senior management from various parts of the industry, including representatives from Loblaws, Cargill, Overwaitea and McDonald’s, as well as other organizations.

Cove said everybody agreed the status quo wasn’t good enough.

“Canada needs to do better in the beef industry. Everybody was committed to the beef industry,” he said. “The hard part is coming up with what’s next.”

He said the result of the meeting is that a group has been detailed to go out and conduct discussions. That group will bring a “straw man” of ideas back to a future meeting as a starting place to come up with that comprehensive strategy.

Cove said involvement will need to be expanded past the 50-odd people at the November summit. He emphasized ALMA’s role will now be to help industry run with the idea.

“ALMA’s not the lead on this. ALMA works with the industry and this has to be an industry-led process,” he said. He said there’s a good chance a followup meeting will be held in March.

Industry co-operation, trust needed

Ted Bilyea, the chair of CAPI’s board of directors told the summit that the trade deficit highlighted in the report has continued to grow.

“The purpose of the report really was to take a systems view of the beef industry,” Bilyea said. He said the meeting helped trigger discussions and made the industry players more aware of the deficit. “We know there are significant issues around the way we go to market, the way we do things,” he said. “We’ve got to find better ways of working together.”

Bilyea said it seemed to him it was a “constructive listening session” and people were in favour of trying to find out how to be a better industry. “We all have to rethink our position and essentially work towards a more trusting relationship because that’s what it takes to work towards something significant,” he said.

Coherent strategy lacking

The McDonald’s Canada representative to the meeting thought the summit was “an important first step in this critical dialogue.” Geoff Giles, director of strategic supply, said in an email that the summit was an opportunity for industry leaders to start the strategy-building process to improve the performance of the Canadian beef sector.

“As it stands now, there is a lack of coherent, customer-focused Canadian beef-selling proposition or strategy that all links in the supply chain buy into,” he said.

Giles said any strategy that is developed needs to be consumer-centric and include food safety, traceability and sustainability.

McDonald’s Canada is the largest purchaser of ground beef in Canada, Giles said, and applauds the efforts to bring stakeholders together to discuss industry challenges.

“I was actually quite encouraged at the meeting,” said Phil Rowland, president of the Western Stock Growers’ Association and one of the summit’s attendees. “There was recognition that we can’t keep doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results,” he said. Part of the meeting was discussing targeting markets for Canadian beef instead of being “an infill supplier to the United States.”

He noted Asia, in particular China’s growing middle class, is an attractive market for beef. “The fact… that we’re going to have a more comprehensive look at this is encouraging all by itself,” Rowland said. “We’re finally talking about this stuff out loud and not ignoring some of the obvious things.” He said more co-operation will be welcome.

“We need a way forward and this may be how we’re going to find it.”

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