Beef industry under pressure from activists, government policies, and consumer preferences
By Doug Rich
Forrest Roberts, chief executive officer for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and Polly Ruhland, chief executive officer for the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, presented reports to their members at the second general session during the Cattle Industry Convention in Nashville, Tenn.
Roberts said 2013 was full of challenge, change and courage for the cattle industry. Continued drought presented a challenge for cattle producers. Industry vulnerabilities came to a head and another factor—a change in consumer preference for beef—brought change to the industry. The team at NCBA provided the courage as it moved ahead despite the challenges and changes to provide value to the industry.
“We truly delivered results that mattered,” Roberts said.
One of the things NCBA worked on specifically in 2013 was beef sustainability. Roberts said the organization was able to finish a multi-year project that set the stage for defining beef sustainability. The project looked at what sustainability means to the beef industry from economic, environmental, and social aspects.
“As we go forward in 2014 we have earned a leadership role in this discussion for defining what beef sustainability means for this industry not just here domestically but on a global scale,” Roberts said.
Ruhland said CBB had several milestones in 2013. One of these milestones was the release of the CBB management review by the Agriculture Marketing Service. CBB received an A-Plus rating from AMS. CBB has been through multiple audits in the last few years.
“By A-Plus I mean there were no findings,” Ruhland said. “To get an A-Plus rating with absolutely no findings was definitely a milestone for 2013.”
The Beef Demand Determinant Study was another milestone. Ruhland said members were interested in what causes consumers to buy beef so they could focus on those things as they move forward with long-range planning.
According to a summary of this study price, food safety, and product quality topped all other attributes as important dimensions of beef demand for both ground beef and steak. The least important attributes were social aspects and sustainability. Beef demand experts identified food safety and product quality as the two attributes that the industry can most feasibly influence.
“2013 was a very important year for market research because we had a low supply situation in the beef industry and in a low supply situation consumer prices are high,” Ruhland said. “We have to make sure consumers get what they want and what they are demanding. Market research is the basis for that information.”
Ruhland believes is in planning the work and working the plan. Ruhland said when leaders have a long-range plan and then are able lot focus on their decision making structure, including the committee meeting structure, a huge step is taken forward. When checkoff monies are lower due to smaller herd size, Ruhland said they have to be able to focus carefully on their priorities.
“We are entering a digital type of marketplace,” Ruhland said. “The operating committee last year made a very important decision to shift most of our dollars into digital campaigns and online efforts. This allows us to be more efficient with our marketing and promotion dollars and target very carefully consumers that we know are more open to additional beef purchases.”
Roberts said the beef industry stands at a crossroads. The beef industry is under pressure from activists’ agendas, government policies, and the changing consumer preference around beef and its role in the consumer diets. Ruhland stressed that this is not a stagnant industry. There is still an opportunity to grow domestic and export demand for beef products.