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Loblaw joins sustainable beef marketplace

The supermarket chain announced the purchase of one million pounds of certified sustainable beef Dec. 18

Canada’s sustainable beef value chain has its first product commitment from a retailer.

Loblaw Companies, one of the founders of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB), has now joined the companies actively sourcing meat certified through the roundtable’s framework. The supermarket chain announced the purchase of one million pounds of CRSB certified beef Dec. 18.

Why it matters: The CRSB’s sustainable beef value chain has added more restaurants on its list of customers, but a major grocer is opening a new market channel direct to consumers.

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The announcement marks the first time meat from the CRSB’s certified sustainable supply chain will hit grocery stores, rather than just restaurant menus. The program, which offers producers a per-head payment for cattle raised and slaughtered in facilities audited by a CRSB recognized body — such as Verified Beef Production Plus — has so far got bites from companies like McDonald’s, Harvey’s and Chop Steakhouse and Bar.

Loblaw will be sourcing that meat under the CRSB’s mass balance claim, the company has said. That sourcing model allows for the blending of CRSB certified meat and non-certified meat during processing, although 30 per cent of the beef must come from certified farms.

But while diners may have started to notice the CRSB’s mark appearing at restaurants already sourcing from CRSB certified farms, consumers will not immediately see additional messaging at the meat counter, Tonya Lagrasta, Loblaw senior director of corporate social responsibility, said.

The CRSB has developed a range of decals for its membership, ranging from trademarks to be used outside of product packaging to indicate general CRSB support, to logos denoting a product-specific claim.

Still in the early days after the announcement, Lagrasta says the company must confirm what kind of logo use they qualify for. Decisions will then be made on if and how CRSB decals might be integrated with their products.

The challenge, she said, will be properly conveying the fine details of mass balance sourcing to the consumer, compared to the more clear-cut narrative of sourcing from a wholly segregated supply.

“It won’t be segregated stock, but our purchase is contributing to creating this demand that signals to farmers that the consumers and our customers want this,” she said. “They want to purchase product. They want supply chains to become more sustainable.”

Lagrasta says the company will be exploring more of what that communication will look like in early 2021. The company will be speaking more broadly on its commitment for a “local, sustainable food future,” Lagrasta said.

“CRSB will be one of the examples that we share to kind of show that we’re walking the talk,” she said. “We’re not just saying we’re doing it, we’re at the table… helping to lead the conversation as we did with CRSB, and the moment there’s an opportunity for us to source and secure that product and bring it into our supply chain, we will do that.”

Anne Wasko, CRSB chair, confirmed that the company would be able to use the CRSB’s mass balance decal, but that it was up to the company on whether to integrate the symbol or not.

The Loblaw purchase represents a “pretty significant” increase in demand for the program, Wasko said.

About 8.6 million pounds of beef have been sold with a CRSB claim since 2018, the organization said in September 2020, including 4.78 million pounds between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020.

The CRSB expects to see volumes from the Loblaw purchase to appear in the next reporting period.

“I think what it shows us is that continued expansion of demand for beef from certified operations,” Wasko said. “That’s an exciting piece. So, we can show Canadian consumers that the industry is very much dedicated to sustainable practices and improvements.”

The CRSB’s 2020 goals included adding one more company to the list of names making a CRSB claim.

“Certainly, we’ve done more than that,” Wasko said.

The Manitoba Beef Producers likewise, welcomed the Dec. 18 announcement.

The producer group does not have hard numbers on how many Manitoba producers feed into the CRSB’s value chain, general manager Carson Callum said, although a “good amount” are working with Verified Beef Production Plus (VBP+).

“Really, if there’s going to be more demand from the value chain on kind of the downstream perspective, it has the potential to lead to more returns for folks who are already involved in the program and might drive more folks to be involved in the program in the future,” he said.

Manitoba’s geographic location has thus far been an obstacle for the program gaining traction, he noted, given the distance to the first CRSB audited processing facility in Alberta. At the same time, he noted, that might now be changing with the addition of Cargill’s plant in Guelph to the CRSB’s certified sustainable supply chain. Cargill completed CRSB audits on its Eastern Canada plant this year, joining its facility in High River, Alta.

“Now with Cargill Guelph online and all the folks who have been able to utilize the High River facility that’s been pulling VBP+ beef through there, we’re hoping to see that this leads to more returns for producers in the future, and I think having somebody like Loblaw involved will definitely drive some interest,” Callum said.

Lagrasta expects this will not be the last time Loblaw looks to buy certified sustainable beef, “as more becomes available for us to do so in the coming years.”

Demand for meat from the program has consistently outstripped supply, CRSB administrators have noted year after year.

“It’s a good problem to have, when the demand for sustainable beef exceeds the supply, because it’s sending all the right signals to the farmers,” Lagrasta said.

This year, the CRSB announced the Ontario Corn Fed Beef Quality Assurance Program as a certifying body for the CRSB, something the roundtable heralds as a way to bring more feedlots into the fold. Additional processors, such as Atlantic Beef and JBS Canada, have also joined Cargill as potential sources for CRSB certified beef.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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