Direct marketing of beef discussed
Rapid City, S.D. – During the Range Beef Cow Symposium held at the Monument in Rapid City, S.D. on Nov. 16-17, Amanda Blair, a South Dakota State University professor and Extension meat science specialist, shared her knowledge on marketing and management considerations for the fed cattle beef industry.
Global pandemic impacts
During COVID-19, it was not uncommon for consumers to experience empty meat cases in local grocery stores. In addition, limitations in meatpacking, processing capacity and labor affected the market.
“The market decline and the ability to process meat caused by the partial or complete shutdown of these packing plants had consumers faced with a shortage of meat,” shared Blair. “What this led to for some producers was the opportunity to sell some – or all – of their beef directly to consumers.”
Over the last year, an increase in direct-to-consumer sales has been observed, noted Blair, and this trend of purchasing meat directly from farmers and ranchers post-pandemic continues.
Blair discussed multiple reasons why consumers may be interested in purchasing directly from a producer, including the preference to purchase locally, desire to know the source of protein or have an interest in a specific beef quality. Options for grass-finished beef, exceptional marbling, specific breeds of cattle and organic production may also be considered.
Regardless, there is an opportunity for farmers and ranchers to differentiate their product from grocery store beef and grow direct sales beyond the trend post-COVID-19, shared Blair.
Direct marketing enterprise
From a consumer standpoint, there are several direct marketing strategies producers should consider. These considerations take into account how cattle are finished, meat processing regulations, carcass yields and knowledge of trade, which all influence the pliability and consumer satisfaction, according to Blair.
“Direct marketing enterprises can take a step further by enhancing communication with both the meat processor, consumer and customers by actively managing customer expectations, utilizing prepaid marketing and providing excellent customer service,” said Blair.
Producers are encouraged to focus on factors which influence product outcomes and consumer satisfaction by communicating meat product attributes without disparaging other products.
“Producers don’t want to scare off consumers from consuming beef in general, in order to promote and solely sell their own product,” Blair said, noting a positive effort in marketing the beef industry as a whole regardless of producer competition can be difficult for some, but is important.
Specific management considerations
The first direct marketing beef consideration is where to feed cattle. There are several options for producers if finishing facilities are not accessible. Blair suggested producers work with a local feedyard or another producer with cattle feeding knowledge and resources.
“Producers need to consider how the facility aligns with their management and marketing goals,” Blair said. “Any customer interested in purchasing directly from a producer can and may make their purchasing decisions based on the perception of how they believe cattle should be raised.”
Consumers’ viewpoint on the living environment of beef has the potential to impact their demand.
“Selecting a feeding location that is well drained to avoid muddy conditions is another management consideration,” shared Blair. “Bedding in a drylot or pen can also improve animal comfort, performance and consumer perception.”
Blair noted if facility space is highly visible to potential customers through various marketing outlets, these factors can be a major role in addition to being a downfall.
“In today’s social media society, a picture is truly worth a thousand words,” she said.
Producers should also handle cattle with minimal stress in order to avoid facility-caused protrusions or bruising.
A scale is helpful in determining sale price based on final weights, but she warns producers to use caution to avoid any bruising before harvest.
The use of a scale is also highly recommended. This allows producers to monitor animal performance and ensure cattle are meeting targeted rates of gain.
“In regards to animal selection for direct marketing, producers should consider their end-product goals when selecting which animals to finish,” explained Blair. “When purchasing beef directly, most consumers expect an eating experience that will be as good or better than buying beef from retail.”
Individual preferences will dictate the consumers’ choice in the type of beef consumed. Meat flavor, juiciness and tenderness are some selection criteria consumers consider.
Blair noted one of the most common selection criteria is marbling ability.
“In general, as marbling increases, producers also see the increase in the likelihood of a positive eating experience,” she said. “The key to selection is finding animals which fit producers’ goals and resources, knowing what product is being produced and being able to stay consistent in providing a product that fits customer demands.”
Tenderness is a trait that can be influenced both before and after slaughter and should be considered when selecting animals for direct marketing. Pre-slaughter factors, such as animal age, breed and sex contribute to this selection.
“Older animals tend to produce tougher, darker colored meat that is less desirable for whole muscle cuts such as steaks,” said Blair. “While there can certainly be a market for older animals, such as ground beef, it’s not recommended to market older cows or bulls for traditional steaks or roasts due to these potential issues with toughness.”
Blair concludes, any animal with Brahman descent has the potential to have tougher meat. Animal sex should also be taken into consideration; Marketing bulls can be known to produce tougher carcasses than steers or heifers.
“If producers are using a finishing program as a differentiator, it’s critical to be transparent and explain programs to potential customers,” explained Blair. “The key to any finishing program is to keep cattle growing efficiently using balanced feed.”
It’s important for producers to understand and accurately represent the product that is being offered in order to build transparency and trust with the consumer. Several finishing programs include grain finish, 100 percent grass finish, grassfed to grain finish or grassfed to supplemented rations.
In addition, Blair notes minimizing stress and improper handling is imperative. Chronic stress can result in a dark cutter, characterized by very dark lean tissue with associated palpability issues and is unacceptable by consumers.
Blair recommends producers consult with a nutritionist or beef Extension specialist who can help design and balance rations.
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.