From apologies to gratitude, the Canadian Beef Industry Conference started off with a bang, in a panel featuring representatives from Sysco Canada, Tim Hortons and Earls Restaurants Ltd. You could have heard a pin drop as the mic was turned over to Mo Jessa, president of Earls, who immediately addressed the ‘humanely raised’ elephant in the room.
In May, Jessa said the company had made a mistake, after their decision to source beef from a Certified Humane supplier in Kansas caused an uproar on social media. Yesterday, the apologies continued, first to a crowd of beef producers, then to the media.
“I underestimated how important it was to Albertans to identify that their beef in Canada came from their home, and I will learn from that mistake,” said Jessa in a media scrum following the panel.
Listen to Mo Jessa’s one-on-one conversation with RealAg’s Debra Murphy at CBIC ’16.
“I think if Earls is going to differentiate, it’ll have to be with the Canadian beef industry – the people that grow our food – at the table, along with our consumers and our own people. And if we can provide the perfect mould of that trifecta, I think we just create something that’s powerful.”
Jessa says he thinks Earls has recovered from what he calls “the incident” (a term that received laughs in the room of over 630 beef industry representatives), but that it broke his heart to hear people thought sourcing Certified Humane implied Canadian beef was inhumane.
“That was never the intent of the communication. Consumers want some kind of third-party animal welfare verification, and we were trying to show them that we’d gotten one,” he said. “I think we can still do that in Canada — we’re talking to the industry about that and I think we’re going to be able to show…the practices in Canada are in some ways higher than they are in the rest of the world. We just have to be able to tell the story better.”
Jessa says Earls Restaurants is now sitting on the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, and he’s working very closely with ranchers and consumers.
“It’s now going to become a partnership, more than a buyer/seller relationship, and to me, that just means opportunity for Earls.”