The Branding Buzz

  • Get a brand
  • Be regional
  • Make more money by adding value

These buzz words are being tossed around our industry in an effort to stimulate individual farmers to develop a marketing plan that distinguishes "a beef product" from the industry norm of "beef the commodity" . The message is clear: its no longer good enough to simply produce and sell a generic commodity . Farmers are being encouraged to produce a branded product. But how does one do this? And why should someone worry about doing this?

Establishing A Brand

At regional marketing seminars sponsored by the Ontario Cattlemen's Association during 2006, producers are being challenged to decide what they are going to produce.

At these seminars, Bruce Cowper of Mallot Creek Consulting challenged farmers by asking two key questions:

  1. "What are three unique selling points of your product?"
  2. "Why should the consumer spend his/her hard earned dollars on your product compared to the next package of beef on the shelf?"

There are many possible unique selling features. Some unique selling points could be:

  • local
  • hormone free
  • organic
  • antibiotic free
  • grass fed
  • corn fed
  • tender gene guaranteed
  • age verified
  • small farm produced

Picture of steak

Figure 1. Branded Products Fill an Identified Niche Market

A producer group looking to develop a branded product needs to establish what will differentiate their product from someone else's. One of the most successful branded beef ventures in North America has been Certified Angus Beef. While perceived as being a high quality brand, it really only guarantees one thing at this point in time: fifty per cent of the genetics of that animal are Angus. This shows that brands don't have to be based on complex criteria to be successful !

The unique selling point can be as simple as specifying the breed or the location of the production of the animal. But make sure that whatever the selling point is it adds value. For example, the addition of DNA testing , plus ultrasound evaluation makes predictions of meat quality much more accurate compared with just specifying breed composition. This will result in higher and more consistent levels of consumer satisfaction, leading to increased demand for the branded product.

Supplying The Branded Product

To satisfy the demand created by a successful branding program, a supply chain must be established and maintained. Without production, a branded program is simply a concept. Unfortunately, the chicken and egg scenario arises. Without a market, what are the incentives to produce? But unless you have something to sell, why develop the market?

Mallot Creek urges groups to follow a 120 % rule. This means that in order to fill 100 % of your market requirements, you should produce 120 %. This is because not all animals produced will meet specification. For example, if you had a specification of no antibiotics, but an animal gets sick and needs treatment, then that animal would have to be pulled from the program. Or if you are feeding to an age end point, but the animal is not finished to that end point in time, it would have to go into another marketing program. Providing consistent product that meets the defined selling features is one of the major building blocks of a branded program. In order to see how you would fit in with a defined program, do an inventory of what product you have currently. What gaps may there be in production.? Where do you need to fill in, or what do you need to do to meet program requirements ?

Many producers get hung up on year round supply. Certainly this can be a critical point, since typical beef production systems do not lend themselves to a year round supply of fresh product. If year round supply is a critical deficiency in your program, consider seasonal selling. For example, the fruit and vegetable industry in Ontario, through the Foodland Ontario brand, has been very successful at marketing fresh produce for limited time periods in the year.

Marketing the product is crucial to the success of a branded program. If you choose local and fresh as major selling features, then targeting a local market would be important. Selling "Algoma Farm Fresh" beef in the Sault Ste. Marie area will have more cachet than selling the same product in a southern Ontario urban market. For most commodity producers, marketing is a whole new ball game. Yet, as Cowper puts it, the producer needs to be involved in marketing the product. He or she is the best seller of the product because he or she has produced it. Part of the success of branded programs is the story behind the product. Although using a third party to distribute your product may not be ideal (a third party will not focus exclusively on your product), hiring a marketer can be very beneficial. A sales person can focus on selling your product into the market place.

Clearly, the meat marketplace is a highly competitive, highly fractured industry. To gain its segment of the meat case window, a branded product needs to be different and consistent. Building a brand is an arduous process, but rewards successful programs which set themselves apart from the rest of the commodity beef in the market place.

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