The branding of Canadian beef was recently discussed at a Canada Beef Inc. (CBI) seminar in Calgary. The thrust of the discussion was the value of having a genuine all-encompassing “Canadian Beef” label for both domestic and export markets.
There is much to be said for such an approach mainly that it fixes a familiar quality and national perception in the consumer’s eye. The trick then is for agencies like CBI to promote the qualities of the brand so that consumers instantly perceive the label as being a premium product compared to any other beef product that doesn’t have the label.
There was a broad consensus that a “Canada” label worked well in export markets where Canadian beef faces tough competition from other national brands like US Beef or New Zealand Beef.
But it seems the Canadian label may not have the same premium impact in the domestic market. No one is disputing the quality and safety of our product — that is assumed and expected by the Canadian consumer.
But it seems some marketers might be wanting more of a competitive edge in retailing and just the Canadian label may not be enough. For example, a Quebec restaurateur at the event reported he was using a “Western Canada Beef” label, because his customers assume that is where quality beef comes from — seems logical.
That brought up further discussion on organic, natural and humane handling labels all for niche markets and where the Canadian Beef label fits in with those marketing angles. I would suggest they all fit because the point is to sell beef in a way that the consumer will buy more of it. If that means lifestyle, production method or regional labelling then full steam ahead. If that supersedes the Canadian label – then that’s the verdict of the marketplace and the consumer. But that wide-open approach can bring on somewhat misleading labelling just to gain a marketing advantage – that’s nothing new in the world of advertising.
What did annoy some folks at the seminar was the trend of some retailers to begin dictating that meat should come from certain production systems or even production perceptions. The reference clearly was towards the gestation stall issue for sows and restricted cages for laying hens. But beef was implicated because of negative perceptions about hormone and antibiotic use in feedlots. It was felt that none of those issues affected meat quality, but it was driving a wedge between meat from different production systems through labelling at the expense of producers. Perhaps one of the most blatant examples of such misleading labelling is a current campaign by a very large retailer called “Free From.”
The advertising claims that their pork, chicken and turkey is raised free from hormones and antibiotics. However in that same advertising a small print line is added that states all pork, chicken and turkey is raised without hormones and antibiotics.
You might as well add lamb, mutton, veal and game meat to that free from list. It’s clearly a marketing ploy that tries to exploit consumer ignorance.
Which brings up a point many of the attendees I expect were quietly thinking after noting the Western Canada label being used in Quebec. There is a proven iconic label that has historic connections to quality western beef and that seems ready for a glorious return to its rightful place in national beef marketing – you know it of course “Alberta Beef.”
I am willing to bet most retailers across Canada would welcome the return of that legendary label. That label continues to be promoted but just in Alberta – relaunching the label on a national campaign is presently fraught with cattle politics. The idea does not go over well with Ontario cattle organizations that feel that their own “Ontario corn-fed Beef” label should not have to compete with an Alberta Beef label in their own province.
The compromise is to encourage retailers to use the “Canadian Beef” label. But it seems retailers are not that convinced it has the same provenance as say Alberta or Western Canada.
A number of processors and retailers even use their own trademark quality labels. There is a message in all this and there should be a common sense approach, but it seems a resolution will have to take some big leaps to overcome the political hurdles.
— Ahead of the Heard