While the term “mega-agency” has been used to describe Canada Beef Inc. (CBI), its first president prefers to think in smaller, more specialized terms.
“It’s funny, you know, I’ve heard that ‘mega-agency’ term and frankly, I see it a little bit differently. I see it more from a boutique point of view. We’re going to be a lot more focused,” said Robert Meijer, the new president of CBI.
Meijer has worked for Cargill Canada for the last eight years as director of corporate affairs and government relations. “We’re transplanting ourselves to Calgary and we’ll be officially up and running from a household perspective at the end of the month. I’ve been on with Canada Beef since the beginning of the month,” he said.
Meijer says that during his time with Cargill, he had the opportunity to learn about many agricultural sectors, but the cattle business captured his heart.
“The beef industry really caught my attention and I have developed quite a passion for it. There’s a lot of tremendous leaders, they have very strong trade group representation through the meat council, through the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and I just have a lot of respect for the individuals in the industry.”
Meijer says the industry still has a lot of potential.
“There’s a lot of emerging markets coming into play and coming in and out of BSE, we’ve learned some tough things along the way. But one thing we’ve been able to have a lot of resilience around is our commitment to our brand, from a Canadian perspective and the quality, and our food safety reputation is second to none.”
CBI is the result of the merger of the Canada Beef Export Federation (CBEF), the Beef Information Centre (BIC) and the National Checkoff Agency. Meijer was on the transition team and says the new agency will have the opportunity to advance the positive work of the former agencies.
He says there is a need to extract value from the consumer, taking it back through the value chain and “Getting into the jeans and pockets of the cow-calf producer who needs to share in much of the reward in creating value within the industry.”
CBI will have its work cut out for it. Post-BSE, there have been several unsuccessful efforts to produce a trickle-down effect to the cow-calf producer.
“There’s no doubt it’s been a challenge and when you look at an organization like Canada Beef, we’re really going to have to play a role to extract and identify new and innovative ways to bring value to the industry. The packers face their own opportunities and challenges, and cattlemen do as well and I think we’ve got a nice sweet spot in supporting both of their initiatives,” Meijer said.
CBI is being born into a cattle industry which is much changed from a few years ago. The loonie is at par or better with the U.S. greenback. Trading partners are being re-established as the memory of the first BSE discovery fades, but those tough BSE years have shrunk the cow herd, creating a new hunger and price increases not seen in several years.
With cautious optimism, the industry moves ahead, but possibly into another recession led by Canada’s most important beef customer, the U.S.
Meijer acknowledges the challenges.
“We’ve got recessionary pressures, we’ve got drought, we’ve got wars, we’ve got currency items, we’ve got non-tariff trade barriers and I could go on forever. The consumer is becoming more educated, but that education is not always based on fact and so when you put all of those items into a bucket and you look at what you’ve got, you have to come back to the core. And that is, ‘What are we really good at?’”
Meijer says the Canadian cattle industry is good at a lot of things and his vision for CBI revolves around the industry’s strengths.
“Our job at the end of the day is going to be to get the most value for the product and to create the most demand for that product. And I’m quite excited about that because from a boutique perspective, when you can narrow your focus, you can get really good at a lot of really great things and that’s what I am excited about,” he said.
“Ourjobattheendofthe dayisgoingtobetoget themostvalueforthe productandtocreatethe mostdemandforthat product.”
ROBERT MEIJER CBI PRESIDENT