Industry leaders emphasize relationships as key to success in the beef industry
From the consumer all the way to the producer, beef industry leaders from across a wide spectrum of the industry agree that relationships will be key to continuing to solve the issues facing beef producers.
Sharing the story
On the producer side, Joe Hampton of Mt. Ulla, N.C. received this year’s Certified Angus Beef Ambassador Award in September for his work connecting with consumers and sharing the beef story. Hampton and his wife Robin own Back Creek Angus, and they responded when consumers expressed interest in the product they were growing.
“Early on, we realized there was value to the industry for people like Robin and I to open up our operation and share with folks what we do every day,” explains Hampton, who also notes misconceptions about the agriculture industry continue to grow on a daily basis.
The operation sits within two hours of 7 to 8 million people, which provides the Hamptons with a unique opportunity.
He comments, “Within about two hours of us is about 7 or 8 million people, and while Robin and I, at times, would rather live somewhere where there weren’t so many people, we have to understand that that puts us in a unique position that we share information about the agricultural community to people who don’t see it on a daily basis.”
The Hamptons open their ranch for tours to a variety of stakeholders, including students, moms, media groups and chefs, and they strive to provide visitors the facts necessary to form opinions about beef production. Tours are held on weekends, and attendees get the chance to walk in their pastures, see the cattle and ask questions – which can be a scary prospect, says Hampton.
He explains, “When school groups come out here it’s okay for the third grader to not understand where their food comes from, but the teachers and the parents don’t know where the food’s coming from, either. That’s why we think it’s important that we open this place up and we’re honest about what we do. We’re proud of what we do. We think we’re leaving this place in a good way.”
And while the Hamptons don’t think their story or operation is particularly unique, they see opportunity in their unique position and location.
“While we will never be able to produce hundreds of bulls for the industry, we can share that information here,” Hampton comments.
Tyson Fresh Meat’s John Gerber, the longtime head of procurement at the company’s Dakota Dunes, S.D. plant, echoes Hampton’s thoughts, saying, “Consumers want to know that the animal has been cared for throughout its life.”
Responding with transparency, collaboration and communication has been key, he notes.
In addition, when major retailers make requests of Tyson, Gerber says the company takes the same approach, working with producers to meet the needs of consumers.
“We learned at Tyson we are not going to say no, especially to a major retailer,” Gerber explains of the growing shift toward premium Choice Angus beef.
By working with their suppliers, changing a few grids and providing some incentives, Gerber says beef cattle producers were able to help Tyson increase beef demand by meeting the requirements set forth by retailers seeking more premium Choice Angus beef in recent years.
With his target set on the highest quality, Gerber says, “We are going to continue looking for the highest quality cattle we can find out there. The consumer doesn’t want even Select anymore, and they for sure do not want less than Select grade.”
“The consumer demands a high-quality piece of meat,” he continues. “They paid more for meat when the herd was decimated, and when cattle prices got high, they paid more for beef. But they bought beef, and they learned that there is a value there. They will pay for the value.”
But it is only through working with producers that Tyson is able to meet their high-quality goals, Gerber says, explaining that by working together, producers and suppliers can help to continually increase beef demand.
Gerber emphasizes the beef industry works together much better now than it used to, and the beef production chain continues to forge relationships among itself, as well.
“We have a lot of young, aggressive ranchers who want to be a part of the feeding business,” he explains. “We’ve got producers who want to get close to us, and we for sure want to get closer to them.”
The key to continued growth, he adds, is going to be continuing to be relationships up and down the supply chain.
“The consumer keeps asking us for certain attributes, and the only way we can deliver those attributes is through our suppliers,” Gerber comments, “and together, through collaboration, communication, talking about what the consumer demands, I think we do a pretty good job of increasing beef demand, which makes us all winners.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and compiled this article from several episodes of Certified Angus Beef’s Angus VNR. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.