Behind the brand: What makes the Certified Angus Beef brand tick?
By Abbie Burnett
On the outside, clocks look simple. But, the plain cover hides the famously complex yet dependable system of gears and circuitry known as clockwork. It’s a lot of production for an effective tool.
The Certified Angus Beef (CAB) brand can look the same. A company working for cattlemen and women, driving demand for high-quality cattle through great eating experiences, but, what complex system behind the scenes makes it work?
Promise to consumers
Kara Lee, assistant director of producer engagement for the brand, answered such questions during the November webinar, “Getting to know the Certified Angus Beef brand.”
She began with the roots, established more than 42 years ago by Angus breeders who believed they had to do better.
“Better in terms of raising high-quality cattle meeting consumer expectations and better in terms of offering the consumer a higher level of confidence they can receive something to meet their consistent quality expectations every single time,” Lee quoted.
The only beef brand owned and operated by the American Angus Association, Lee said all funding for the extensive global program comes from packer commissions, paid because they can sell the branded products for more.
“The way we build demand is by ultimately meeting our brand promise to consumers and our licensees who serve them by having a consistent premium product every single time,” she said.
The brand is unique, Lee added, because it owns neither beef nor cattle. It can’t buy cattle or have any involvement in the price structure or determining which packing plant cattlemen sell to.
Demand, then, is built by the created, pull-through model by which consumers seek the brand by name and consistently have the same great eating experience, which makes brand integrity the key to the clock.
Lee said the brand is also unique in tracking every pound from the packing plant to those who sell to consumers.
“We make sure at no point along the way is any distributor, processor, retailer or restaurant selling more product than they’re buying,” she noted.
Surveys show 95 percent of consumers recognize the logo and associate it with quality, Lee said. By licensing and auditing packing plants, retailers, distributors and restaurants, the brand makes sure this perception stays true. Research even shows a willingness to drive a little farther for a grocery store or restaurant where they can buy beef with the CAB brand.
“When the consumer recognizes our logo and affiliates it with quality, we are able to achieve our overall mission statement, which is all about increasing the demand for registered Angus cattle through the specification-based program,” Lee said. “While many pieces in this beef supply chain can feel very segmented, we know they’re all very directly tied together in achieving that overall mission.”
CAB demand and quality
Despite 2020’s struggles, the brand surpassed sales of a billion pounds for the fifth year in a row. Demand, indeed.
But, how do cattle make it into the brand? With Rolex level precision.
First, Lee noted “Angus” in-and-of-itself is not a guaranteed quality level. More than 70 other brands of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified programs use the Angus word, all of which run the spectrum of quality from lowest to highest.
Only about three in 10 Angus-influenced cattle meet all of CAB’s science-based standards. This is why, Lee said, the brand vigilantly protects its three-word name.
“Just talking about Angus beef isn’t good enough for the customer today, so it can’t be good enough for us as a program,” Lee said.
The initial threshold to qualification is simply Angus influence with black hide behind the shoulder, above the flank and in front of the tail head. But, no cattle earn the brand before the hide comes off, she said, and each one is evaluated by a USDA grader for all 10 carcass specifications.
Of all the Angus-identified cattle, only about 35 percent make the cut. The four biggest disqualifiers are not enough marbling, out-of-range ribeye size or carcass weight and back fat thickness of more than an inch.
Of those four, 92 percent fail for lack of marbling. If this term seems like a consistent talking point, Lee said there is a reason why.
“It’s not because we believe in single-trait selection. We know producers have a lot of different traits, which are very important to both a registered or commercial cow herd,” she said. “The reason we talk about marbling so much is because it’s the number one place where there’s money left on the table because a producer missed out on their Certified Angus Beef premiums from not having enough.”
The good news is, about 40 percent of what influences marbling is based on genetics, Lee said. Beyond genetics, what happens on the ranch and at the feedlot greatly influences how consumers respond to it.
“What all of this ultimately boils down to is, quality pays,” Lee said. “There is a message which has been clearly sent from consumers to producers today, and high-quality beef is worth more to them and they’re willing to pay more for it.”
Premium genetics and management need premium marketing. This is why the brand will host a second webinar on Jan. 21 tackling grid marketing, retained ownership and how to use information to make better decisions.
Abbie Burnett is the producer communication specialist for CAB. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.