I’m fulfilling an Eisenhower Fellowship with the goal of helping beef producers better understand the customer in Japan and Taiwan, especially with regard to the reputation of the product branded U.S. beef, and also specific branded products offering added value built on the foundation of company names and reputations.
Heads up: To my beef industry colleagues and to the beef producers who are my bosses, my friends or my industry partners, I’m about to tell you something uncomfortable.
I believe that it is better to tell the truth than a lie. And I believe it is better to know than to be ignorant. ~H. L. Mencken
Consumers in Asia don’t trust us.
(I know, some experienced international marketers will say that this is not a news flash.)
Now, deep breath. I can feel the hair on the back of your neck rising from all the way over here. I can hear you saying, “If they don’t trust us, then it’s their problem!” But truly, it is our challenge–and our opportunity. We have the responsibility to earn and maintain their trust–just like we have the chance every day to earn and maintain domestic consumer trust. And, like domestic consumers, if we lose trust, we lose on many fronts. Freedom to operate. Market share. Flexibility. Profit potential (would you rather throw tongues in a waste bin or sell them for $8/lb? Your choice).
At home, when I’ve mentioned earning consumer trust by fair dealing and honesty. Some people (who are, I believe, trying to help me) tell me:
- I’m naive and I need to be less “Polly-anna” (pun intended);
- Consumers should feel lucky they have food on the table;
- Asian consumers should feel lucky they get American beef;
- “They” could never understand what we do–and
- Further, we don’t have to explain it to them because we’re the experts;
- “They” should take what we give them (and furthermore, and “they” need to learn to cook)
Stubbornly (and I pray daily to the good Lord to save me from my stubborn self), I’m once again telling folks: I haven’t changed my mind. I still believe in the importance of transparency and fair dealing with our consumers. As a matter of fact, I believe it even more strongly after seeing more of the world outside U.S. borders. I believe straightforward honesty built American agriculture. I believe that’s how most farmers and ranchers operate on a daily basis. I still believe that’s the foundation of America.
I’ve met with several large importers in both Japan and Taiwan–these are customers of the major and minor U.S. packers.The Eisenhower Fellowship gave me the opportunity to listen to the chairmen of these import companies. Powerful men, who run billion-dollar companies, who purchase nearly every pound of beef entering Asia–from the U.S. or elsewhere.
The importers I visited say that the cultural divide between West and East makes business dealings a bit harder–but certainly not impossible. What muddies the water now, they say, is the lack of trust. Trust in what we tell each other as we continue long-term relationships with partners here, or begin new business relationships. Trust in the safety of U.S. beef, and the care producers have for animals, land, quality and safety.
Is it possible for us to build trust in Asian consumers? I believe it is.
I, for one, am not worried about what will happen here when we offer consumers a choice of beef produced in different ways (natural, organic, never-ever, use of various production technologies)–and label it (and price it) accordingly. In Taiwan, U.S. beef is known as the best quality available. Taiwanese (especially young people) crave it–they want to buy it, it’s the buzz on the streets. At a fantastic dinner the other night hosted by my new friend and Taiwan EF Fellow (see Food and Heart, I had some of the best Top Cap I’ve ever eaten, U.S. beef of course), one of our group literally said a cheer for U.S. beef right in the middle of a toast (they toast a LOT here in Taiwan!)–seriously, a cheer for you, my friends in beef. Made me proud. The beef produced in Taiwan cannot hold a sputtering candle stub to the quality, consistency and taste U.S. producers offer. But the discussion about U.S. beef is almost always followed by a “but” … is it safe?
Without trust as the foundation of our relationships, with companies, with consumers, there are no workable talking points. We, and our business partners at home and in country, have to trust each other to make it work. It takes two (as Pearl Bailey said) to tango.
Tell the truth. Offer choices. Build trust. Sell beef.
It’s really that simple. At home, and abroad.
PS. Allow me a small space here to talk about U.S. packing companies. Producers, feeders, like it or not, they are the ones that put a face on your product once it leaves your farm and feedlot. They tell your story around the world to your international customers–through their business reputation, their brands, their actions, their people, their words. Packers represent you to customer-facing businesses like importers, retailers and foodservice. In a global marketplace, your profitability lives and dies with their ability to sell your product for the best price, worldwide.
Random Photos of the Day: