Calgary Co-op CEO challenges the meat and egg industries

If the customer is always right, then Alberta’s meat and egg producers have some work to do, according to one of Calgary’s largest grocers.

In a keynote address to the recent Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency’s FutureFare conference, Calgary Co-op CEO Deane Collinson said his customers are not getting the type and quality they want.

Members recently passed a motion asking that Calgary Co-op stop sourcing eggs or pork from confined-housing facilities.

“Maybe this is a good thing… if this many people voted for this maybe there’s something here,” Collinson said.

The motion is non-binding on the Co-op’s board of directors, but Collinson said after the issue hit the news his organization started getting calls from patrons of other grocery stores saying they were planning on switching to the Co-op because of the motion. “There’s some demand for this,” he told attendees at the Red Deer event.

Collinson said he had a “challenge” for the meat business — Calgary Co-op wants to be able to say it sells Alberta beef.

“Another thing we really want to work on is antibiotic and hormone-free beef,” Collinson said. “I truly believe that this is a trend that’s going to come. People are very concerned about their health and I think as an industry we need to think if we’re going to continue with the growth hormones in our cattle.”

And while bigger animals might help the producers’ pockets, retailers are having problems coming up with ways to sell all of the different cuts, not to mention the extra costs of slicing up the extra meat, Collinson said.

Lower-quality pork

Next on his list was pork marketing and quality in Canada. Collinson acknowledged pork is often used as a loss leader for grocery chains, but said consumers don’t know how to cook cuts like pork shoulders.

And the quality of pork sold in Canada isn’t as high as the pork shipped from Canada to Japan, Collinson said. “World-standard pork, that’s what we’re looking for. If we had that, we could sell it.”

On the topic of eggs, Collinson praised the diversity of options now available in value-added products such as free-run eggs. “People are willing to pay more for these eggs of perceived value,” he said.

Since the anti-confined housing motion was passed by Calgary Co-op members, Collinson has been visiting various livestock facilities and speaking to animal welfare experts. “We have a real perception/reality gap,” Collinson said he’s been told. The challenge is how to communicate the reality of farms to the public. “There’s so much misinformation out there,” he said.

While sympathetic with producers on how they are affected by misperceptions, Collinson noted European countries are moving strongly in the direction of banning sow gestation stall use and expects the trend will continue. “I don’t think this issue’s going away,” he said.

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