Price and traceability lessons learned in Canada's beef export markets

Did you know that around 70 per cent of Canada’s beef exports go to the United States? Depending that much on one market means that if there is ever an issue with the United States border crossing (hello, BSE crisis), Canadian export options become slimmer than we’d like them to be.

This is why Ellen Crane, Prince Edward Island-based beef farmer and extension coordinator for the Canadian Beef Research Council, took on a research project to explore more international opportunities for Canadian beef products.

“When I was doing my initial research, we had a lot of trade deals on the go. So we had the new NAFTA (the USMCA), we had the CETA agreement, and we had the CPTPP on the table. [There was a lot] of uncertainty of how that was going to play out and where some of our opportunities might be,” she explains to RealAgriculture’s Bernard Tobin at the 2019 Ag Excellence conference. “[I took a look at] what those consumers are valuing from those other countries when they are purchasing beef products, and how we can change our management here in Canada to leverage those opportunities when we are assessing new international markets.”

To accurately conduct her research, Crane travelled through Europe, Asia, the United States, and Canada. One of the focuses on her trip was price, as she notes that when you are talking to a consumer, “price is king,” and is perhaps the first thing a consumer considers in the purchase decision.

“One interesting example was from a grocery store in Osaka, Japan. It was a higher-end grocery store where they had Ontario corn-fed beef alongside an authentic wagyu steak. The Ontario corn-fed steak was about a third of the price at $10 Canadian (dollars) and the wagyu steak was about $30 Canadian,” Crane explains. “What the retail manager was able to tell me was that the mother of two kids that is coming grocery shopping there once or twice a week is going to purchase the Ontario corn-fed beef because the wagyu steak is a richer ingredient that you want to enjoy in smaller pieces, where when you eat the Ontario corn-fed you get more nutrient value from that for a lower price. I think that’s something that we could be leveraging more with our Canadian products.”

Between antibiotic use, label claims, and food traceability, food safety is also top of mind to the consumer. Since there are so many topics that fit under the umbrella of food safety, Crane decided to focus her research on food traceability throughout her travels, specifically looking at the European system.

“I thought the double ear-tagging system (in Europe) was interesting. So if one falls out, you still have one there. The passport system that they use there — where it’s the same as you and me, they have a passport that follows them throughout their entire life and indicates where they’ve been. Now they’ve moved that into more of an electronic system instead of using the paper-based system to improve that communication between owners of that product which has been very effective, and they are very proud of it in the U.K.”

Find out more in the interview between Bernard Tobin and Ellen Crane, below:

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