Canada’s branded beef programs

Canada’s branded beef programs
by Bonnie Warnyca - 11, 2011

While last issue looked at the Certified Angus Beef Program (CAB), this month’s discussion takes a look at how some breeds are telling their story within a branded beef program.

In the past, Alberta Beef Magazine has talked with the folks from Heritage Angus Beef, Spring Creek Ranch Premium Beef and Canada Gold Beef but there have been and are others still trying to get into the value chain market.

The Canadian Hereford Association (CHA), for instance, started looking at a Hereford branded program about three years ago. Eyeing the success of the Certified Angus Beef Program, they met with a packer in hopes of a possible partnership.

“It’s common knowledge that the success of the CAB program is largely due to their partnership with Cargill,” says Gordon Stephenson, General Manager of the Canadian Hereford Association.

“The packer we met with wasn’t interested in being a part of a branded program at the time, but was more than willing to custom kill.”

“I also had a lot of discussion with the American Hereford Association about their program. But again, they are tied in with a Kansas City-based packer which pays premiums down the value chain right back to the cow/calf producer.”

“A lot of folks probably don’t realize that while the CAB program is the most popular branded beef program in countries where there is a Cargill plant, Hereford beef programs lead in such countries as New Zealand, Ireland, United Kingdom, Uruguay and Argentina where there isn’t a Cargill plant.”

Stephenson says that Uruguay ships a lot of their beef into Canada and one particular B.C. retail chain uses mainly Hereford from that country.

After looking at both the cost and the time involved in not only creating a branded beef program but the time it takes to grow it, Stephenson says that the CHA has, for the time being, put their idea of a branded Hereford beef program on hold.

“We’re just not sure that the payback is in this type of program for our producers until we have a committed packer partner,” suggests Stephenson.

“At the end of the day the question needs to be satisfactorily answered – is Canada a commodity market? The CAB program, for instance, currently only amounts to about a small percentage of the all animals harvested in Canada.”

Meanwhile, recognizing the growth of the Canadian Hereford breeders’ freezer business, the association earmarked more funding for Hereford labeling and promotional materials to assist their breeders in farmgate marketing.

But Stephenson isn’t ready to pack away their branded beef card just yet.

“While the Angus program is touted on marbling and taste, Stephenson believes there is room at the dining table for the Hereford breed which carries the “the tenderness gene”.

“The Hereford cattle have that advantage and it is backed up by research,” says Stephenson.

“Add to that the Hereford disposition and it’s a combination that’s pretty hard to beat in a commercial operation focused on raising premium beef.”

The Angus story
About ten years ago, the Canadian Angus Association (CAA) implemented a branded beef program called the Canadian Certified Angus Beef program. But it wasn’t long before the American Angus Association raised a red flag calling it an infringement on their Certified Angus Beef program and the Canadian program was abandoned.

That was then – this is now
“Today, we have a cooperative relationship with the American Angus Association, says Michael Latimer, Assistant General Manager of the Canadian Angus Association.

“We credit the CAB program for achieving its goals of not only increasing the numbers and profile of Angus cattle in North America, but helping to change the grading system.”

With a number of new branded programs springing up in Canada, the Canadian Angus Association has turned their efforts to support the industry-driven programs as opposed to developing their own, nationwide program.

“As an association we decided to work with these branded programs to ensure they were using Angus cattle and not just using the name of Angus without specific bloodline criteria,” says Latimer.

“The CAA created the Canadian Angus Rancher Endorsed Program to ensure that the Angus cattle used in Canadian Angus-based beef programs are at least 50% Angus which means they have one registered Angus parent; generally the sire.”

“The current North American industry standard uses the CAB criteria of 51% Black hided. We are looking to change this from a phenotypical Angus identification to a genetic Angus identification through the Angus tag in order to include the Canadian Red Angus-influenced cattle.”

Here in Canada, the number of Angus-influenced cattle in the national herd is about 60%. On the purebred side, the CAA registers about 63% Black Angus and 37% Red Angus in their purebred herdbook with approximately 55,000 new registrations each year.

The Canadian Angus Rancher Endorsed cattle are identified at the auction market through their Angus tag. In the past few years, the commercial Angus tag numbers has grown to about 270,000 per year. Finding it difficult to lasso exact numbers, the CAA estimates about 30,000 head of Rancher Endorsed cattle are involved in the many Canadian Angus licensed beef programs. That figure does not include the Canadian Angus cattle that go into other branded programs such as the CAB.

“There are about 16 or 17 licensed participants in the Canadian Angus Rancher Endorsed program,” reports Latimer.

“They range anywhere from a gourmet burger stand to a natural beef program, organic beef program and grass fed program just to name a few. But there are many other Angus branded programs across Canada as well and in North America, all tolled, there are about 120 Angus-based programs currently running.”

As with any branded program, the numbers within each set criteria must rise to meet the expectations of the retailer which is to be able to provide both consistency and quantity. It’s a chicken and egg scenario, which certainly causes anyone trying to start a branded beef program a lot of sleepless nights and certainly some emptying of the wallet.

However, when you look at all the branded products in the grocery isle from toothpaste to laundry detergent to cereal, it seems that the beef counter still has a long way to go before it reaches that kind of branded status.