Munns sees need for high quality, uniformity in cattle coming to packing plants
Greeley, Colo. – For Bill Munns, working at JBS has been a learning experience. Munns, who grew up on a cow/calf operation in Colorado, now works as the director of marketing and product management for one of the biggest beef processors in the world.
Part of Munns’ position with the company is helping producers determine what type of cattle the company wants.
“I get asked a lot what the packer is looking for in the cattle we buy,” Munns told producers during a recent beef quality meeting in Greeley, Colo. “The short answer is to ensure consumer preferences are met through the supply chain interaction.”
He continued, “We want what the consumer wants. Whether we want to admit it or not, in the end, we all work for the shopper.”
For the shopper
Munns sees a real need for better educating shoppers about beef.
“A lot of times, they are not well-educated on what our practices are in the beef industry,” he explained. “We definitely need to do a better job helping them understand by educating them.”
Quality has become a lot more important.
“Through the entire supply chain, we all work together to produce what the consumer wants, from the cow/calf producer, to the backgrounder, stocker/feeder, feedlot and packer,” he explained. “Consumers are looking for a quality product. Because of that, we offer a much better return for a higher quality carcass.”
Munns continued, “USDA graders are present at each of our plants. They run the cattle across the grading scale and determine whether they have a prime quality carcass, choice or select. The consumer is willing to pay more for a prime quality carcass, and the relative cut out value of prime carcasses versus choice or select, is worth more.”
To produce prime quality carcasses, Munns told producers packers like JBS are looking for “soldier-type” cattle.
“We want uniformity. It makes our operation more efficient on a daily production basis,” he said. “If the cattle come into the feedlot the same shape and size, it just makes everything more efficient for everyone on down the line.”
“We like it from a production standpoint, but our customers also demand uniformity,” Munns commented.
Munns said many of their retail customers don’t have fully-staffed butcher shops or a skilled labor force to cut up meat.
“When they buy a box of ribeyes, they want to open the box and find ribeyes uniform in size,” he says. “What they don’t want to see is a 12-pound ribeye and a 20-pound ribeye in the same box.”
“When a producer brings cattle to us, we want them to be uniform in weight, structure, conformation and muscling, and less than 1,000 pounds in carcass weight,” Munns told producers.
He added that most packing plants were built to handle beef carcasses of the 1970s, rather than the heavy carcasses from today. When beef carcasses are too heavy, it spells trouble for the plant, he noted.
“Obviously, we can’t have carcasses that touch the floor out of food safety concerns,” he said.
Importance of age
Munns also noted that the age of finished cattle is also important.
As an animal gets older, the rib bones ossify. The most desirable ages for finished cattle are A or B maturity. A maturity is nine to 30 months of age, while B maturity is 30 to 42 months.
“Don’t feed the cattle too long and get them out there to 40 or 50 months of age,” Munns warned producers. “If producers do, we will discount them for maturity. We really like to see the finished cattle under 30 months of age.”
In fact, a lot of the premium programs JBS participates in require A maturity cattle.
“Our buying reflects what we can sell in the marketplace,” Munns said. “We have to buy not only what consumers ask for but also what they are willing to pay for.”
As an example, all consumers say they want non-hormone, antibiotic-free beef, but Munns said only about four percent of their production goes into that market.
“It costs more, and not everyone is willing to pay more for that product,” he said. “It is not a big market, but it is growing.”
The product manager has also noticed people are less trusting than they used to be and want to have an affidavit to show the customer where the beef comes from and how it was raised.
Some customers even purchase beef from verified programs, like the JBS brand Aspen Ridge Natural Beef, because they think they are getting a better product.
“People who buy this think they are buying something better, greener, more nutritional and healthier for the environment. They are willing to pay six to seven dollars more per pound for it, even though it isn’t a lot different than other beef we sell,” he said.
Customers are also requesting a leaner product, which means more trim at the packer level.
“They want meat with one-quarter-inch trim that is ready to slice into roasts and steaks at the retail level. It can be portioned out easier,” he explained. “What that means is the yield grade is becoming more relevant to the packer than at the retail level.”
It could mean some discount for the feeders if the packer has to spend a lot of time trimming the meat to meet one-quarter-inch specifications.
Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.