Celebrate beef all year long 

(Journal photo by Kylene Scott.)

There’s not a national holiday for Beef Month, but perhaps there should be. The month of May is often called the kickoff for the summer barbecue season, and what’s better on the grill than beef? 

Consumer message

It’s important to get the beef message out to consumers, according to Todd Johnson, senior vice president, Federation Services, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. 

“Today’s consumer is inundated with messages about products to buy,” he said. “Therefore a priority for the Beef Checkoff program is to cut through this clutter and keep beef top of mind among consumers so when buying decisions are made, beef is their preferred protein.” 

The Beef Checkoff reaches out to consumers using multiple communication tools, including paid advertising on streaming television and on social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. 

“Staying relevant with the content delivered and the platform it is delivered through is key to successful marketing,” Johnson said. 

Beef marketing was not always successful in the past, and the beef industry struggled. 

“In reviewing USDA and CattleFax data, we see that beef demand fell approximately 50% from 1980 to 1998,” Johnson said. “This drop was extremely detrimental to our industry, and without course correction the future for beef was not good.” 

An industry task force was formed and ultimately provided guidance on increasing consumer beef demand.  

“A landmark recognition by this group was that the U.S. beef industry had, for too long, been focused inwardly – production-driven, not consumer-driven,” he said. “The industry had demonstrated neither the ability nor the inclination to respond adequately to consumer signals in the marketplace. The result was loss of market share to poultry and pork.” 

Consumers had negative perceptions about beef’s quality and consistency, as well as convenience, the study found.  

“Bottom line, our industry was not delivering a product consumers wanted,” Johnson said. “Thanks to concerted efforts by producers, who have focused on beef genetics that deliver a high-quality, consistent eating experience, and through innovation in beef cuts, packaging and menu options, the consumer demand index is back to the highest level in nearly 30 years.” 

Consumer demands were made a priority, and the collective beef industry made a concerted effort to give consumers what they wanted. Johnson said the Beef Checkoff played a role, too, by providing regular and consistent measurements toward the industry’s goals. One tool is the National Beef Quality Audit, which is conducted every five years and has benchmarked areas of improvement.  

“Additionally, Checkoff-funded consumer market research helps our industry keep a pulse on what’s needed to serve the needs of today and tomorrow’s beef consumer,” he said. 

Johnson said that today the future for the beef industry looks bright, in part because of strong demand. 

“Without the consumer’s willingness to purchase beef, our industry doesn’t need to raise cattle,” he said. “We must stay focused on the consumer, continuing to address their concerns and delivering on their expectations. We are doing this through a high-quality, great eating experience, a strong nutritional package and focusing on the farmers and ranchers who raise cattle and bring value to our economy, local communities and the environment.” 

However, there are still challenges to address, especially as the cowherd inventory shrinks to record low numbers, Johnson said. 

“We also recognize the need to bring more younger producers into our industry,” he said. “Because our industry is nimble and adaptable, with bright minds looking for innovative ways to continually meet consumer preference for a premier protein, the future is positive.” 

The Beef Checkoff Program has a unique structure of grassroots producer leaders with expertise and an understanding of consumer needs. 

Sign up for HPJ Insights

Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive columns and much more.

“This partnership is on display through state beef councils across the country as they engage consumers and decision-makers within their unique marketplace, focused on making beef the preferred protein,” Johnson said. 

State’s perspective

Colorado Beef Council Board of Directors Chairman John Scanga said that, in his state, March is the month beef is most heavily promoted. Local affiliates conduct events and have promotions geared toward beef month. 

The Colorado Beef Council was established in 1965, pre-dating the national checkoff.  According to beefboard.org, the Beef Checkoff program was established as part of the 1985 Farm Bill and assesses $1 per head on the sale of live domestic and imported cattle, in addition to a comparable assessment on imported beef and beef products. The Checkoff assessment became mandatory when the program was approved by 79% of producers in a 1988 national referendum vote. 

“We had a state checkoff before the referendum,” Scanga said. “We’re up there with one of the older ones in the U.S. I think the earliest one was 1963, maybe.” 

Promotional events and special days or months help draw attention to beef and the industry. Scanga said sometimes he thinks it might diminish the potency of the message if everyone has a month. 

“We might be getting a little bit saturated and numb to that,” he said. “But I think it’s important that we look at March and we say, ‘OK, we’re going to have a big promotional month here, and we’re going to do a lot of things to focus on promoting beef to consumers.’” 

High beef prices and low cow herd numbers have made the council’s work harder. 

“There’s a focus on the diet, health/nutrition aspects of it,” he said. “If you are concerned that you’re looking for lean, beef is still an option. There’s that promotional piece of it.” 

Once a month the Colorado Beef Council has a Facebook live event where a chef cooks with beef, often using an alternative cut or lower-priced item such as ground beef. 

“We have a focus on tacos or spaghetti and other unique and innovative ways to use ground beef, so there’s a lot of those things as well,” he said. “It’s kind of that culmination to focus on nutrition because of the quality of the flavor. And then the value component of that has been the one that’s been hit the hardest with the right prices.” 

Consumers tell the checkoff that even though the price is high, they’re still willing to pay for beef because of the flavor. 

“They want that taste,” he said. “They want that eating experience, and so we’ve got to continue to focus on that from an industry to make sure we don’t sacrifice that, still keep that front and center while being sensitive to the fact that they’re not going to get the ribeye steak every meal. A lot of that’s probably going to be ground beef.” 

Recipes for including beef in meals can be found at www.cobeef.com or www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com

Kylene Scott can be reached at 620-227-1804 or [email protected]. 

PHOTO: Celebrate beef all year long. (Journal photo by Kylene Scott.)