By Julie Buntjer
The Daily Globe
For years, consumers have heard the "Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner" campaign, but as people request more information about beef products -- where the animals are raised and who’s raising them -- beef marketing today is all about telling the story behind the product.
"Everybody in the industry is branding their own brand," said John Hagerly, vice president of global marketing services for PM Beef, headquartered in Windom.
"It’s really not about the packer brand anymore, it’s about the brand the store can develop," he added.
Coining a phrase from Colorado State University animal science professor Tom Field, Hagerly said brands wishing to remain viable in the future will need to evolve and sell "story beef."
"More and more, people want to know where their beef comes from -- the story behind the cattle, the story behind the genetic program, the story behind the producer," said Hagerly.
While consumers remain confident in the food supply, their trust is vulnerable. Hagerly said a recent survey among consumers and their concerns showed that the economy ranked first, rising health care costs second and food safety third.
Surprised by the data, Hagerly said a lot of people don’t know the safety systems that already are in place -- not only in the meat processing industry, but on family farms as well.
Relative to food safety, consumers trust retailers most, followed by farmers, veterinarians and dietitians.
Hagerly, who has worked with PM Beef for the past seven years -- in addition to owning an upscale restaurant near his home in San Antonio, Texas, and working as a chef -- said the mission at PM Beef is to deliver the highest quality, most consistent, best-tasting beef to customers every time, on time.
The privately owned company buys the highest quality product, he said, adding that about 85 percent of the cattle that come through its plant are Angus or Angus-cross. PM Beef sells product under the Amana Beef label.
PM Beef is the second- largest supplier to the European Union, said Hagerly, adding that the company wasn’t even marketing to Europe three years ago. The company also sells beef to China.
Speaking Monday morning to individuals who make decisions in the kitchens of hospitals, nursing homes and public schools, Hagerly said retailers need to understand consumers, embrace their ideas and communicate the positive message of beef.
"When we go to a customer, we’re really representing the family farmer," Hagerly said. "We actually go on the farm and understand what they’re doing."
For retailers, knowing that story behind the product can help sell the product at the meat counter.
"People like beef because of its unique flavor," he added. "It’s good for you, it’s good to eat. Satisfying consumer demand for beef focuses on supplying a juicy, tender, flavorful product."
When asked by one participant in the class about the use of the word "natural" in meat labeling and what it means, Hagerly said the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines it as no artificial ingredients, no hormones and no antibiotics. The use of the word "natural" in marketing is good, because it’s all about branding, he added.
Another man in the class, a beef producer, said he was bothered by the use of the word "natural," because it may make consumers wonder what isn’t "natural" about other beef products that don’t have that slogan.
"As a producer, I’m very concerned about what our consumer is wanting. I don’t want to lead them on to something that isn’t true," he said.
"It’s all about marketing and how you can market (your product) to the consumer," responded Hagerly.
Colleen Zenk, director of nutrition and consumer information for the Minnesota Beef Council, said she is often asked if one particular breed of beef produces better meat than another.
"Is certified Angus better than any other beef out there?" she inquired. "It depends on who you ask. There’s about 250 breeds of beef cattle. It’s kind of what your preference is and what’s best for you. I think marketers spin things a lot of ways to sell product. Part of our challenge today is to give you information -- science-based information -- so you can make informed decisions."
The Minnesota Beef Council sponsored the "Connecting with Your Food’ workshop Monday at Hy-Vee in Worthington.
They will have sessions again this morning ranging from new cuts of beef and menu ideas to healthy eating and consumer trends.