Ontario beef gets jump on Alberta Beef . . . the gloves are now off

There was a time when there was only one premium beef brand in Canada (OK, the world) and that was Alberta Beef.

There was a time when there was only one premium beef brand in Canada (OK, the world) and that was Alberta Beef. That quality brand was first used 60 years ago and was used with great success for many years in eastern Canada reaching iconic status in Quebec. Then in the 80s came the Beef Information Centre and later the Canada Beef Export Federation, which later morphed into Canada Beef Inc. For the sake of a national Canadian beef brand, The Alberta Beef label was virtually eliminated as a promotion tool except occasionally within Alberta. The idea was to focus on a national brand and eliminate any competition between provincial beef brands. There seemed to be some sort of logic to that as the noble intent was to increase beef consumption in general, which would benefit producers and the industry no matter where the cattle or beef comes from. That required some political wrestling within provincial and national industry organizations, but in the end Alberta seemed to acquiesce to the national approach and the Alberta Beef label was relegated to local promotion within the province. But the national value of that iconic label was never lost on those in the advertising business.

The Alberta Beef label was kept alive in the province and thrived under such wildly successful slogans as “If ain’t Alberta, it ain’t Beef” which received international advertising awards. In recent years, a series of sophisticated TV commercials were broadcast in the province. With all that success, ad agency and industry promotion experts vigourously advised the beef industry to extend that promotion across the country and bring back that iconic and highly respected label. Instead, the idea was met with considerable opposition from within the national beef promotion establishment, mostly based on the theory that maintaining a national Canadian Beef label was much more important. Ad industry professionals suggested the industry was wasting a great beef promotion opportunity. One only has to note the long-time success of the Angus Beef promotion program and realize that quality labels work rather well. So why am I plowing over all this old ground? – Well, it seems that diminishing the role of a provincial brand in favour of a national brand only applies to Alberta.

For readers that may not be aware, there is another provincial beef brand that has been around for over 15 years, that being “Ontario corn-fed beef.” It ran as a mostly localized label for many years within that province – no problem with that as it was used similarly to the Alberta Beef label in our province. However, over the past few years, the Ontario label promotion has expanded beyond that province into Quebec, the USA and recently into export markets like the middle-east and Japan. So what gives here – how come there was pressure on Alberta to restrict their beef label to local promotion yet Ontario beef has aggressively gone beyond its borders even into international markets – wasn’t Canada Beef supposed to be doing that promotion? It looks like a slap in the face to Alberta. To add insult to injury, many of the feeder cattle used in the Ontario corn-fed program come from Alberta.

Apologists for the Ontario beef promotion program will state that they were given multi-million dollar promotion grants from the Ontario government and they had to spend money, and part of that exercise involved promoting beef to outside markets. Well, Alberta producers could have made the same argument – they could have used their million dollar grants to promote Alberta Beef in Toronto and Montreal – but what an uproar that would have caused from Ontario producers. I would suggest that with the aggressive Ontario beef promotion program expansion into areas outside of the province that the gloves are now off – Alberta Beef now needs to be aggressively promoted in our biggest markets like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal perhaps even in the international market. It should be noted that some minor Alberta Beef promotion was done in Vancouver in the past, but it never made advertising sense to spend millions promoting Alberta Beef to ourselves in this province.

I would suggest that there is now no longer a political argument to restrict the use of the Alberta Beef label with the action of Ontario beef promotion program. Besides, more choice means more publicity for more beef consumption and that’s always good. But who is kidding who; does anyone actually believe that Ontario corn-fed beef could even remotely compare to Alberta Beef – the best beef in the world?