Unlocking Value Through Innovation

Innovation Change Unlocks Value March Blog

Make no mistake, despite some vocal minority voices that say otherwise–people want to eat beef.  The latest beef demand numbers say plenty, with the All Fresh Beef Demand Index having increased an astounding 13 percent year-on-year during the fourth quarter of 2014. 13 percent – that’s the largest year-over-year increase in any quarter since 1990 – 25 years. Of course, the beef checkoff can’t take credit for the entire growth in beef demand – but our community is realizing this growth despite our tight supply in recent years, which points to growing consumer preference for our product and, according to economist Glynn Tonsor, “strong consumer loyalty to beef.” In fact, demand for beef has increased in 18 of the last 19 quarters through December 2014. And for the full year in 2014, beef demand increased 7 percent – the best growth we’ve since 2004 and the second-best since 1990.

Looking at one area where the beef checkoff focuses on innovation, the NPD Group – a global information company – reported recently that a total of 9 billion servings of burgers landed in U.S. restaurant and foodservice tables in 2014 – up 3 percent from 2013. This was in sharp contrast to overall sandwich servings for the year, which dipped by 2 percent – or 201 million servings. Burgers lead the sandwich segment, and that’s no accident. The checkoff worked closely with restaurant personnel nationwide to help create many of the burger options you see on restaurant menus today. Because we have asked consumers what they want – with market and product research at the base of every checkoff program – we may assist chefs and restaurant owners in understanding and fulfilling beef community desires. Because of this, today’s burger is much more than a bun-wrapped patty. Instead, beef burgers are a discriminating and purely individual selection from hundreds of creative options, including burger bars where folks can put their sandwich together just as they like it. Some people (like me) still want a simple, perfectly grilled beef patty, topped with Wisconsin cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup and mustard. But given the high price of beef, you can understand why many folks feel like their burger experience is more valuable when they get the exact combination of flavors that delight their palate. And we aim to please.

As I mentioned earlier, research forms the base of virtually all beef checkoff programs. That includes market research to keep in touch with our consumers’ demands and product innovation research to keep making improvements and changes to meet those demands. Let me give you a couple of examples of the important connection between research, product innovation, and a blended beef community. Think about breakfast – a meal that in which beef has been largely absent. Our market research tells us that consumers want beef at breakfast, too. So the checkoff’s Beef Innovations Group and culinary team worked through a coordinated product development initiative to help chefs and restaurateurs bring beef products to the breakfast table, developing recipes for breakfast beef burritos, beef and egg breakfast mugs, basic country beef breakfast sausage, beef bacon, steak and eggs breakfast tacos, and beef breakfast pizza, to name a few. Once perfected, we also distribute recipe innovations to consumers through the digital platforms where they say they want to receive their beef information. We rely heavily on partnerships where restaurant of retail partners invest as much as $60 to every checkoff dollar. It’s a win-win-win for farmers and ranchers, restaurants and retailers, and the customers who love beef–a.k.a. the beef community.

So can we celebrate the win? Absolutely. But what we cannot do, is rest.

We need to take a very thoughtful, disciplined approach to the future of the beef community, too.  We are in a unique position to offer a certain experiential value to our customers that separates us from other proteins. We have unmatched equity in the area of creating food experiences to meet our customers’ search for those experiences, not simply chow or belly fill. Serving up these experiences will require that we continue to nurture and grow the trust we have gained in our beef and agriculture community by providing truth, transparency and value. By pleasantly surprising and delighting our customers constantly. By pushing beyond the status quo and reinventing the beef experience, even when we are experiencing tremendous success in demand. Especially when we are experiencing tremendous success.

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”  ~Henry Ford

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Expanding Our Community

You will find truth more quickly through delight than gravity. Let out a little more string on your kite.

~Alan Cohen

I think it’s fair to say that the beef checkoff program has been in the thick of some dynamic debates recently. And while those discussions are important, we simply must stay focused on why we, as beef farmers and ranchers, are here: to make every beef meal a delightful one.

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Does the word “delightful” sound out of context here, to you? I have become increasingly dedicated lately to the concept of customer delight—an awesome, unexpectedly wonderful customer experience. We are part of a larger team that works each day to delight customers and feed people.

I know we have the skills, and the tools, to ensure a delightful customer experience. But the noise around us definitely is a barrier we have to overcome. Whether that noise is about us or peripheral to us, we must remain tightly focused on our beef community, especially our customers. We are the producers, and producers are a small subset of the eaters (yes, Virginia, we eat what we make!). Together, we are a broad community of food nutrition, health and enjoyment.

We must remember that delighting the customer involves listening and continuous innovation – not resting on what delighted yesterday or maintenance of status quo. Continuous innovation allows us to work toward enriching our customers’ lives with our product by bringing them into the beef community.

Just to be clear, when I say ‘beef community’ here, I’m summarizing a rapidly occurring (much-needed) change in our relationship with our customers. Society has evolved (or, we have returned to this relationship, I haven’t quite decided which one it is), to a place where consumers seek a more direct relationship with the way food is produced and what we put into our bodies. Some producers in our community may not like the thought that our community wants to know about our food. But truly, every eater has an intimate relationship with food. Food is nourishment, family, laughter, love. When we are sad, we turn to food for comfort. When we celebrate, we eat. A certain dish brings back memories of loved ones, whom we cannot touch or hug. The aroma of grilling steak makes our bellies rumble and our neighbors gather. Too many among us long for the simple chance to eat something, every day. Food is the fabric of who we are.

As a beef community, we will not thrive unless we include both producers and eaters. Make no mistake, consumers, “eaters”, are very much part of what we have so often referred to (and I cringe when I say it) as the beef “industry’ (what an ugly concept, and word, to describe the relationship we have with the environment, and food!)

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” ~Socrates

Toward this end, we have to be very smart in our search to delight and include our customers in our beef experience. We have to innovate our animal care, environmental management, and product quality, form and usefulness with a careful eye toward the desires of our consumers – even if we don’t fully understand, or share, those desires.

At the same time, we must continue to educate consumers who are generations from a laying hen or the wonder-filled birth of a baby calf about how nature works, the sanctity and care involved in our work, and the symbiosis of the unique relationship between farmer and Earth.

To do this, we must think about beef’s total experience for today’s community. We have to do everything we can to demonstrate that we are adding value to the lives of people, here and elsewhere, through things we all care about – nutrition and health, interesting and attractive food experiences; taste that delights; and the demonstrable reassurance that beef is produced with careful stewardship of land, animal and environment.

“We need to reach that happy stage of our development when differences and diversity are not seen as sources of division and distrust, but of strength and inspiration.”

~Josefa Iloilo

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