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Healthy, natural, organic trend spreads

In some respects the term “consumer demand” always seems a bit elusive because I am never sure when consumers organize to say we want this or that, but retailer and processor demands are pretty real.

It was interesting to read recently that A & W, the second-largest burger chain in Canada, is switching to only natural, hormone-free beef in all of it’s 790 restaurants across Canada.

It doesn’t appear there is a need to rush to produce all-natural beef for A & W. The company has that base covered as it buys meat from Alberta-based Spring Creek Ranch, which is owned by the Kotelko family at Vegreville. As well, A & W is also sourcing all-natural burger meat from Meyer Natural Foods in Montana and Teys Australia, which produces Grasslands cattle.

The move by A & W, which it says is supported by 89 per cent of its customers, is another example of how “the shoe does drop.” The livestock industry has heard for the past 10 to 15 years, at least, that consumers will call the shots on what and how meat products are produced. It is not an immediate thing, but then we start to see examples of retailers or processors making announcements of the type of product they will handle.

McDonald’s is very careful about its reputation. One of its U.S. egg suppliers got some bad media on an animal welfare issue, and they were dropped overnight. In the pig industry, pretty well all Canadian processors now are telling producers to switch over to loose-housing systems for pig production.

And the NewStream Farm Care newsletter reports: “While over 60 major companies ranging from Safeway Canada to Kraft Foods have announced welfare-related shifts to come in the next decade, companies right now leading the trend include:

1. Hellmann’s “Real Food Movement.” Take a close look at your mayonnaise jar and you may see some new wording on the label: “Made with free-run eggs.” This is part of a “Real Food Movement” the company first introduced several years ago. It started with a focus on sourcing and featuring local ingredients and the new cage- free wording represents the first foray into welfare-related branding under this program

2. Ben & Jerry’s ‘”Caring Dairy.” This iconic ice cream brand has introduced a “Caring Dairy” logo to its label that signifies how the company works with its farmer suppliers to contribute to “ice cream with consciousness through sustainable practices,” which include animal welfare approaches.

3. Costco private brand eggs. While pork and beef categories are also seeing a rise in welfare-related branding, at the big mainstream food product level by far the most prominent activity is on the cage-free eggs front. This is where Costco decided to go exclusively for its Costco private brand eggs label (Kirkland). Wal-Mart has adopted the same approach with its “Great Value” eggs brand and a number of other top world retailers appear are following suit with at least part of their egg offerings. All Costco-branded eggs are caged free and organic with both attributes stated directly on the product label.” You can read more about this at www.meristem.com.

On the beef side I don’t often hear too much criticism of production practices, but the natural, hormone-free status appears to be a big selling feature.

Not to take anything anyway from Spring Creek Ranch beef — the company produces a very nice Angus beef product — but I think it is interesting that A & W has gone this route. If I am waddling into an A & W for a Teenburger combo with fries, milkshake and side order of onion rings am I really concerned enough about my health to worry whether I have hormone-free beef or not?

But that aside, good for A & W, and good for Spring Creek Premium Beef. Spring Creek started the company in 2003 with a vision that natural beef would catch on, and now they supply large grocery retailers, many restaurants and now A & W with their product.

Further on the natural beef topic, I have to give credit to the Angus people for great marketing. If you see the name of a beef breed associated with quality meat or a healthy meat program it is 99.9 times out of 100, Angus beef. Has anyone ever seen a menu that featured 100 per cent, Triple A, Blonde d’Aquitaine T-bone steak? No. Occasionally Hereford may get a mention — their biggest claim to fame is on canned corned beef. Whether it is better or not… Angus gets the billing.

And one more note on the Angus and natural beef topic, I see recently where Christoph Weder, CEO of Heritage Angus Beef has relocated to British Columbia. Weder, who was a long-time columnist for Grainews and Canadian Cattleman is leaving the Spirit View Ranch at Rycroft, Alberta and moving west to Hudson Hope area in the southwest B.C. Peace River Region. Looks like a very nice place. Heritage Angus Beef has a network of producers who produce all-natural Angus beef with the company tapping into restaurant and retail markets across Canada and in other parts of the world. Weder reports he even got the guesthouse moved to the new spread, so everyone is invited over for a visit. †

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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