Is sustainability still a path for the future? Yes, Indeed!
In one of the most popular sessions of last week’s Canadian Beef Industry Conference, panelists from across the supply chain debated the future of beef sustainability, from producer and foodservice perspectives. The panel discussed everything from how to define sustainability, consumer attitudes and how they may have changed during the spring of 2020, to opportunities for beef producers to market their individual and collective sustainability efforts. The session, moderated by RealAg’s Shaun Haney, included four panelists from across the beef supply chain. MaryjoTait of Celtic Ridge Farms, beef producer from near London, ON talked about shifting their business quickly during the spring of 2020 as 80 per cent of their direct market customers were restaurants. She noted the benefits of programs like the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef’s (CRSB) certification program and Verified Beef Production Plus, but wishes consumer understood better what they represent. Karleen Clark of KCL Cattle in southern Alberta provided her perspective as a family run multi-generational feedlot operation. She also talked about how they have seen more people contacting them directly to purchase beef than ever before. Darren Frey of Gordon Foodservice Canada and Marcel Blais of Chop Steakhouse provided the restaurant and foodservice perspective, which certainly had their share of challenges this spring (and continue still), but noted the positive story they have to tell about sustainable beef production in Canada.
All are hopeful about the sustainability of the beef industry in Canada and believe that consumers are keen to understand more about where their food comes from, and how it is raised. Consumers are keenly interested, perhaps even more so this year, as there seems to be an increasing awareness about the food system, and what it takes to bring food to their shelves (or at least the notion that there are people growing and producing it!). Blais also shared the “Aha moment” that many of their team members have in staff training when they learn about the many ecosystem benefits of beef production, and the conservation efforts of farmers and ranchers for the land, biodiversity, etc., that they knew nothing about, and that this is a key opportunity for us as an industry. Frey echoed this, as they are keen on arming their sales teams with the great story of beef sustainability leadership in Canada.
Continuing to tell our story, connecting the farmers and ranchers personally to the consumers, continues to be a key message, and the companies who have the direct connection with the consumers, are ready to stand up and share that message. CRSB is the connection point to bring all the players come together and speak as one voice.