If there is one thing that is never short of dreams and schemes in Canadian agriculture, it is beef marketing. As one expects, myriad agencies, organizations and governments all claim to have a better marketing idea or plan. The observation that many of these grandiose hopes may be redundant, self-serving or in competition with each other never seems to be brought forth. But that’s not unusual whenever money, jobs and power become involved.
A case in point is beef promotion. Depending on what meeting you attend you will hear about such name brands as: Canada Beef, Canada Gold, Canadian Beef Advantage, Canadian Angus, of course there is Alberta Beef, Ontario Beef and not to mention a bewildering variety of private labels.
I can understand the private labels, but why are there so many national labels, almost all of which are supported by some sort of taxpayer grant program of one sort or another. One has to wonder how all this registers in the minds of consumers both domestic and abroad – they may be perplexed as to the difference between all the Canadian beef brands. Does it mean one type of beef is better than another? Our foreign competitors seem to more assured about who they are – American Beef, Australian Beef etc.. all seem to have one national name.
Once you scratch the surface, of course, you find in Canada that these Canadian labels tend to be the result of competing groups all of whom claim to represent the national beef producer. As one might expect, they all would claim their label and their marketing idea are the best.
As the old pitchman’s schtick goes, “But wait there’s more” Recently the Canadian government established a new agency (yes, we need more government bureaucracies – right) called the Agriculture Market Access Secretariat (AMAS) – one of their main functions will be to open up markets to Canadian beef – although at this point we are not sure which Canadian beef.
AMAS is supposed to replace the efforts of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) that has failed miserably to re-open significant offshore markets to Canadian beef. Rather than admit defeat, the CFIA has cleverly kept its long hand in the game by seconding some of their officials into the new AMAS, which brings up the concern as to who will they really be working for.
Of course, there is another group that is marketing Canadian beef offshore and that is the Canada Beef Export Federation. They are in competition to or complementary to, depending who you talk to, the group behind the Canada Gold beef program.
But wait there is still even more. In Alberta, the government has established the Alberta Meat and Livestock Agency, and you guessed it, it has an international marketing program. Part of their mandate is to increase international markets for Alberta beef, I guess that means not Canadian beef.
No doubt, there are probably more organizations and government departments that have a self-appointed role in marketing beef, but it is beginning to boggle the mind. The question is – has or will any of this increase export beef marketing or better yet, will it put any extra dollars in the pocket of the primary cow/calf producer. One suspects that any extra premiums garnered in offshore markets end up in the hands of packers, processors and maybe feedlot operators. Primary producers are usually told that their prices are determined by the Nebraska cattle price minus the basis.
Maybe what would be useful is for a mediator or consultant to be engaged to unravel all the competing national labels, marketing schemes and government machinations dealing with beef to determine what is useful and what isn’t, to advise what is redundant, and perhaps suggest some way of creating a unified focused international beef marketing effort.
Considering all the energy, people and money involved in all of this, perhaps we are desperately in need of some common sense – but don’t hold your breath – there is a wall of politics in the way – as usual.