Beef branding programs may help move Canada’s cattle industry forward, but market access will remain a limiting factor, says Andrea Brocklebank, research manager of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.
“The North American beef industry is in transition and we need to position Canadian beef through value chain development,” Brocklebank told Tiffin Conference participants here in late January.
While the beef industry has been affected by various factors over the past decade, including a strong dollar (a 1 per cent increase in the Canadian dollar translates into a $1 decrease in beef price), Brocklebank said there are more opportunities than ever to market Canadian beef.
“Opportunity is driven by demand for high-quality beef in domestic and international markets,” she said.
Restricted market access, however, continues to affect the value of Canadian cattle. Some markets are still closed in response to BSE, and those that are open are down in value. “There’s a big push to improve market access and trade capabilities,” said Brocklebank.
She says Canada has a great product to offer – high quality, grain-fed beef. As one of the largest grain-fed beef suppliers in the world, Canada is also the only just-in-time fresh beef supplier to the United States. Combine that with marketable images of mountains, rolling hills, wide-open prairies and roaming cattle, and Canada has a definite advantage.
“We need to implement the ‘Canadian Beef Advantage,’ especially when selling into international markets,” said Brocklebank. “We need to create differentiation points and consumer loyalty by branding our beef so they know they are consuming Canadian product.”
Since country-of-origin labelling requires a label anyway, why not brand, said Brocklebank.
She said branding is part of value chain marketing, and there are some things to consider such as brand ownership and equity, volume requirements of processors and retailers, the consumer’s willingness to pay for differentiated products and the utilization of the entire carcass.
The challenge lies in diversified, convenient, quality beef offerings. “According to consumer surveys, one in five quality steaks is too tough to chew,” said Brocklebank. “Quality control and consistent, continuous supply are critical.”
A value chain can take many forms and offers several benefits to producers, including improved information flow, market access, differentiated marketing, reduced transaction costs, access to premiums and alternative quality-based pricing systems.
The future, according to Brocklebank, will be determined by improved market access and free trade, as well as a strong positioning of the Canadian beef industry and an offering of differentiated products.