Rabobank leader cites drivers for opportunity in beef
New Orleans, La. – The changing face of the beef industry and the consumer population means cattle producers across the country must actively consider influences that impact production, according to Rabobank’s Bill Cordingley.
Cordingley, who serves as managing director and head of Wholesale Banking for Rabobank’s Chicago Office, kicked off the Cattlemen’s College at the 2019 Cattle Industry Convention and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Trade Show, held in New Orleans, La. from Jan. 28 to Feb. 1.
“There are changing expectations in the U.S. beef industry and big opportunities from a demand perspective as social, economic, political and demographic forces at play fundamentally change,” he noted. “They all require a response along the value change.”
“With changing expectations, there are no doubt big opportunities, and there are certainly challenges that need to be addressed,” Cordingley said. “In my view, the future stability and strength of our industry, in our companies, our communities and our families depend on how we engage around issues moving forward and, frankly, right now.”
As he thinks about cattle production in the U.S. and around the world, Cordingley asked beef producers if what they are doing today will be enough to sustain both individual operations and the beef industry as a whole into the future.
“There are several drivers I think will be important,” he described. “The first driver is technology. For me, technology is both a huge challenge and an opportunity that simply cannot be underestimated.”
Cordingley continued that, while the emergence of technology in the industry is not new, the pace of change in technology has revolutionized the cattle industry.
“The pace of change has accelerated,” he said. “Generation X-ers and Baby Boomers have seen technology transformation that has been stunning.”
From the implementation of e-mail and the world wide web to the emergence of cell phone, Cordingley said, “All this technology has disrupted and even destroyed industries at a pace we haven’t seen before.”
While technology has revolutionized cattle production, it has had a remarkable impact on the consumer, as well, according to Cordingley.
“The consumer is now more informed than ever, and they can speak to anyone about anything,” he said. “Opinions online are driving consumers, and for many consumers, it is confusing.”
The challenge for the beef industry, he continued, is figuring out how to interface with consumers as science and facts become less persuasive.
“If someone has made up their mind and doesn’t agree with something, all the science in the world will probably not change their view,” Cordingley explained, noting social media provides a venue for many opinions about food products to emerge. “Those active on social media are creating space for consumers to talk, and despite the obvious challenge, there’s also tremendous opportunity for the industry.”
While consumers look online for information, Cordingley said they are also seeking “real stories about real people involved in raising cattle to address questions. Social media provides cattle producers the opportunity to tell their story. It is a huge opportunity to connect with consumers directly and help them feel better about the beef they’re eating.”
“The second big driver of change – linked to the first – is the changing consumer,” Cordingley said. “Eating food is now more complex than ever.”
Consumers are focusing on eating for good, meaning they seek to consume products that are good for themselves, their community, the environment and the planet, Cordingley explained.
“In other words, we see conscious consumers,” he said. “With information overload from the internet, we also see conscious consumers conflicted with too much information.”
To continue to produce in the beef industry, Cordingley emphasized producers must build social capital.
“By social capital, I mean our license to operate,” he explained. “Social license in the industry involves what we do and how we use land, water and sunshine to produce beef. It comes down to trust.”
Cordingley continued, “When we lose trust, we lose money, and the social license the beef industry operates under today is clearly under discussion and being challenged.”
Issues with animal welfare, environmental impacts, human nutrition and the healthfulness of beef continue to be questioned by consumers, and though many of the issues aren’t new, Cordingley said the industry must address them now or risk losing consumers.
“These drivers are complex and important in the industry,” he said. “How the industry attacks these challenges and turns them into opportunities will determine how large and profitable the industry is in the future.”
“There’s no room for error, either, particularly from a consumer and social license perspective. Trust and authenticity in the industry is key, and a commitment to continuous improvement is essential for beef producers,” Cordingley commented. “The message must get out that the industry, individually and collectively, is engaged in the important work of providing safe and nutritious food for people in a responsible and ever-improving way.”
Look for more information from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Cattle Industry Convention in New Orleans, La. in next week’s Roundup.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.