[UPDATED, July 5, 2017] The Angus breeding community descended on Brandon in June for its first annual convention in the Keystone province since 2011.
Outgoing president David Sibbald said he was excited to see so many attending the event, something that’s important because the industry needs to co-ordinate on a plethora of important issues including sustainability, the environment and even health-care issues.
“I think it’s very important for our members to hear from the most reputable people, experts and professors who are really tasked with helping us through this,” Sibbald said. “I’m really excited about the collaborative effort we’re seeing here from all aspects of our industry so that we drive to a single, clear message.”
Sustainability, branding and the value chain were repeat topics through the weekend. Speakers included Manitoba producer Joe Bouchard, TEAMAuctionSales.com developer Jason Danard, Fawn Jackson, founding executive director of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, Dr. Ed Pajor, who spoke on public perceptions of the industry as it relates to animal pain and welfare, and keynote speaker James Bradbury, brand officer for Canada Beef.
Bradbury warned against “blanket” branding, arguing instead that messages should be targeted to specific segments of consumers using the specific mediums each segment is most likely to frequent.
Beef consumers, he reported, tend to be male and consumption peaks between 30-54 years of age.
Bradbury also pointed to market research that implies issues such as hormone use or environmental impact may not be the consumer driver that some retailers have come to think.
Canada Beef asked both Canadian beef industry stakeholders and consumers to rate agreement with 54 statements on the industry. The study reached 500 consumers in each of the four countries (Canada, Mexico, China and Japan) it was conducted.
Results showed 75 per cent of stakeholders thought the issue of “unhealthy levels of hormones and antibiotics” in Canadian beef was important to public perception of the industry, but only 15 per cent of Canadian consumers agreed. Internationally, the same statement was deemed important by 17 per cent of Mexican consumers surveyed, 15 per cent of Chinese consumers surveyed and five per cent of surveyed consumers in Japan.”
Likewise, 68 per cent of Canadian industry stakeholders agreed that beef’s environmental impact was important for public perception, but only 12 per cent of surveyed Canadian consumers, 14 per cent of surveyed Mexican consumers, 10 per cent of surveyed Chinese consumers and three per cent of surveyed Japanese consumers agreed.
Those numbers are unlikely to stop retailers, however, who have increasingly stressed health issues and environmentalism, such as in the 2016 Earls controversy that saw the restaurant chain switch briefly to American beef.
“It wouldn’t ignore it, but we’ve got to recognize that with the funding that we have and the manpower that we have, that going up against a food-service organization on a topic, whatever topic that is, would zap a lot of those resources,” Bradbury said. “What we’ve got to realize is that we’ve got our own strategy and our own brand to be able to get out there. We’ve got to do a better job of getting our positive messaging out there.”
Canada Beef has identified several major messages in favour of the industry: taste, patriotic loyalty, producers’ personal stories and beef as a “good time” product.
“How all that contributes to being Canadian, that’s the message that we need to forward and we can prove that 2-1/2 times more consumption can come from a message with that than it would trying to battle a particular issue,” Bradbury said.
Handing over the reins
The convention marked a changing of the guard in the Canadian Angus Association as Sibbald handed his post to Brett Wildman of Alberta. Trevor Welch was named next in line as president-elect and will take over in 2018.
The executive rotates on a three-year basis, with each member serving a year as president-elect, president and past president.
“Every good organization builds and continues to assess through a governance model and so we’ve spent some time clarifying policy and procedure (to ensure) that we have good succession planning,” Sibbald said, adding that the system allows a smooth changeover when new board members are elected.
During his term, the association made changes to its governance model, undertook research into best farm management strategies and developed programming.
One of the most substantial changes, the Angus Cow Enrolment (ACE) program, was proposed last fall and will take effect January 2018. The program rolls association services into a single fee. Participating members will enrol all their breeding program cows, compared to the previous, per-calf system.
Wildman will preside over the continuing rollout for that program, as well as development of a three- to four-year strategic plan.
“We’re looking at development of a strategic plan over the next six to eight months, which is going to include our membership,” Wildman said. “We’re a member-driven organization and we’re going to gather information through town halls and surveys and one-on-one contact with our membership to see what their vision is.”
Starting in August, the association will also launch monthly evaluations to members.
“We’re real excited about this and getting closer to real-time evaluations,” association CEO Rob Smith said. “It will not matter so much when you submit your weights, because within that month you will get adjusted numbers.”
Black Angus will certainly be covered in the evaluations, while work is ongoing to include red Angus numbers as well, Smith told membership.