Transforming Ontario’s Beef Industry

Transforming Ontario’s Beef Industry

The need for having an Ontario brand in the marketplace is even stronger now than when Ontario Corn Fed Beef was launched by the Ontario Cattle Feeders’ Association (OCFA) in 2001.

In his annual update at the Beef Industry Convention in London in January, OCFA Executive Director Jim Clark said the current success of the program can be traced back to its original purpose.

“Our goal has been to build a strong recognition for top-quality beef that we produce here in Ontario…and sales have grown,” said Clark. “I have always believed our producers can compete with anyone in the world, given the right set of tools. We produce excellent beef here.”

To meet the goal, the OCFA developed a blueprint for a brand – Ontario Corn Fed Beef (OCFB) – that required the industry to embrace change to meet the challenges of the marketplace.

As more and more beef was being imported into Ontario, Clark said it became clear that the status quo would have to change.

“The majority of the consuming public lives in eastern Canada, but don’t think for a minute that our competition doesn’t think that as well,” said Clark of the increasing competition for market share in Ontario.

By following the blueprint for a quality beef product raised in Ontario, the farmer-owned brand has experienced some impressive growth.

In November 2007, Clark said 29,818 head of cattle were delivered through the program. The yearly number has grown to 223,463 as of November 2012, and 262,824 as of November 2013.

While the brand has enjoyed some great success over the last decade, Clark said it’s just the beginning. Loblaw Companies Ltd., which carries OCFB in 241 stores across the province, has asked both processors and the OCFA to grow the program during key marketing months, especially during barbecue season.

“We need another 2,500 of cattle per week, from the end of May to the end of September, to meet the current demand and need from our retail partner,” said Clark. “From everything I see from 2011 to today, Loblaw is extremely committed to the program.”

Loblaw has been particularly pleased with the OCFB AAA Certified Platinum brand that was launched in 2012. The program uses the top three per cent of cattle to produce a high quality cut of meat that is densely marbled. Consumer response has been excellent.

For Clark, it’s been gratifying to see consumers buying a branded product that has been produced by Ontario farm families. Before the launch of AAA Platinum, most available brands were imported into the province.

“We’ve replaced that brand with our own premium brand here in Ontario,” added Clark.

Not only are people noticing the program in Ontario, Clark said there is an opportunity for growth in export markets where consumers are seeking a high-end product. “There’s not much discussion about price…it’s can we get the product and can we get the story that comes with the product,” he said.

According to Clark, the export market has two key benefits. It allows for greater carcass utilization because some markets are seeking cuts that normally aren’t consumed in North America. Second, there’s the opportunity to supply more of the premium cuts.

While the Canadian barbecue season winds down in the fall months, Clark said it’s just starting to ramp up in markets such as Dubai and Saudi Arabia.

“This gives Canada a great opportunity, especially Ontario Corn Fed Beef, as we have more than just a branded beef product,” said Clark. “We have a story to go with the brand, something that most other brands lack.”

As the OCFA looks beyond traditional beef markets, Clark noted that it’s part of the group’s original strategy to break away from the status quo.

“The only way to transform this industry for the future is if we continually embrace change,” said Clark.

“We’re’ standing out from the crowd and let’s keep the momentum moving forward. At the end of the day, we have something pretty special here and it’s taken a lot to get to this point, but I think we’re just starting…the opportunities are great.”

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