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French wines, wind mills and Swiss chocolate

That headline about somes up 10 days in Europe, with five more ’til I get home. So far I have hit three countries — France, Holland and Switzerland — and what I have seen is a world of entrepreneurs, marketers, challenges and opportunities. I came to France to attend SIAL Paris, one of Europe’s largest global food trade shows.

To me it was the Olympics of gastronomy. I thought the Gulf food show that I attended in Dubai was big. This event dwarfed that and I was thankful I decided to stick with my hiking boots rather than wearing the John Wayne attire. There were seven pavilions divided into themes and categories like, wines, processed products, bakery goods, and dairy products, there were national pavilions representing different countries, there were organics and of course there were meats.

Needless to say the South Americans were there in full force, represented mainly by Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. However there was also representation from the British Isles with a strong force from Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Even the Americans had a good presence including Tyson Foods with a hormone free treated beef program, ready for export to Europe! In fact, in my discussions with one of their sales reps, they were exporting four to five container loads per week. And Canada? Well, I shouldn’t even go there since my last critique of Canadian Beef Export Federation (CBEF) in Dubai was not well received.

I can already hear the crys from within our forward-thinking red neck industry. Canada is not selling to the EU because the EU will not accept hormone-treated beef and, if they cannot accept how we raise our beef then screw them! That should pretty much sum up our country’s attitude. I think it is a pathetic attitude considering our country is dependent on selling 70 per cent of what we produce.

Yes, the published statistics, and the science shows that hormone-treated beef can and does not contain any more estrogens than other foods we eat like cabbage and soya based products. And yes, part of the ban is also to protect European agriculture. However, it is their market and if you can play within these rules there is also a great opportunity to add value to the cattle we produce here in Canada.

What many Canadian beef producers must realize is that beef is not just beef. Just like there are markets for all the makes of cars that drive up and down our highways, there are markets for all the types of beef produced in the world. There are those who want the cheap and cheerful beef — which is Brazil. There are those who want quality at a modest value — which is Argentina, Uruguay and to some extend Australia, and then there are those that want quality and are not afraid to spend the bucks. In the EU and Switzerland that title is held by the Americans and/or U. S. Beef.

The sad part is every importer who I’ve met to date (who plays in the high end market) wants Canadian beef because of our country’s great image! We represent wide open spaces, we are the Prairies, we are the Rockies, we are the clean rivers and lakes, we are a nation that for the most part does not rock the boat. We have an advantage in that the whole of Europe knows who and what we are. The only ones who don’t know this is ourselves. We are missing an opportunity of marketing our beef and gaining market diversification just by hanging the Canadian image with our product!

Developing these relationships and business opportunities takes time and commitment of both the suppliers and distributors, and it takes marketing dollars. ’Til now the distributors I have met who market high quality beef are also loyal and looking for long term relationships. When deals are separated by oceans and time zones distributors need to know they will have the consistency of supply to grow the market, that there is consistency of quality within the product, and finally that the suppliers stand behind the product they produce. Yes, they want traceability, however more than that they want transparency of production so that the products in turn command the premiums in the market place.

Beef at SIAL Paris was represented separately from the rest of the Canadian pavilion, which hosted everything from Saskatchewan pulse crops, Quebec maple syrup and New Found Land Iceberg vodka. The Canadian pavilion was good, although it appears Canadians are still afraid to make a splash about their own country. It is almost like we are partially castrated and just can’t get the job done. That said I am glad that there is an organization like Food and Beverage Canada to help offset the costs for Canadian companies to go and market on an international level.

As for our beef industry, CBEF will maintain that Europe is not our target market and number three on the priority list. That’s fine if they believe that, however, perhaps they should listen to the distributors I have met who want Canadian beef. ’Til now they have found no one ready to work with them, or else have had to deal with so much bureaucracy it made the effort not worthwhile.

Yes, Europe has its intricacies, politics and cultures, however if the market were not worth it why do countries considered to be Third World spend upwards of 10 times the money that Canada spends at this show to market their wares? Maybe it’s time we invest in a bigger flag than the bumper stickers we use to market our products and better yet our beef.

Dr. Christoph E. Weder is a purebred Angus breeder in the Peace region of Alberta and also runs SVR Ranch Consulting. For additional info check out www.spiritviewranch.com

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