‘Not enough to just say you have a grass-fed standard – you need to back it up with data’

International customers are “keen for information” on Irish grass-fed standard beef, as “it’s not enough to just say you have a grass-fed standard”.

At the most recent Bord Bia Meat Marketing Seminar, key speakers discussed the need for research comparing Irish beef to competitors and the effect of different marketing environments in other countries, among other topics.

Joe Moore, Japan market manager with Bord Bia said there is a “big growth” in Japan when it comes to demand for Irish beef.

“Japan has a long history domestically of heavily-marbled beef,” Moore said.

“With health-conscious consumers, we’re seeing interest in leaner grass-fed beef. I’ve been speaking to customers about the grass-fed standard for six months now and they are interested, but it’s not enough to just say that you have a grass-fed standard.

You need to back it up with details and data and customers are keen for thorough information about production methods, and they really want to see data about how grass-fed can compete with the traditional grain-fed.

“To this end, we are currently undertaking taste test research comparing Irish beef to competitors and this will produce proof points on our USPs – taste, texture and smell, etc, and I think it will be really useful to present to customers going forward.”

There is a website currently being developed to deliver “that high level of detail” around the grass-fed standard and Irish beef in general specifically for Japanese customers, which Bord Bia says will be available to view in 2021.

US domestic focus ‘not exclusionary’

Henry Horkan, North America manager with Bord Bia said it’s often said that corn is king in the US, and “from a conventional beef production that is certainly the case”.

“The grass-fed movement in the US has been around for the last 20 years,” Horkan said.

“Coming from a situation where it was a very small niche, it’s now developed significantly. As we know, something that’s a niche in the US can still be very sizeable in terms of its overall presence.

“That is certainly the case in terms of grass-fed. Whether it’s in dairy or beef, I think the important thing to be conscious of [is] the marketing environment in which we operate in the US.

So, for grass-fed beef to be marketed as such, it needs to be 100% grass-fed – that means from the initial weaning of the animal right through to slaughter, the animal needs to be fed 100% grass or legume diet so that, to a certain degree, precludes Irish beef from taking ownership of grass-fed positioning in the market.

He added that while Irish beef “certainly has a role to play in the market” with what Irish beef offers in terms of sustainability, “we do just need to be conscious of what the structural barriers are in terms of how we market and how we talk about our product in the market, where that’s a requirement”.

“They [American consumers] understand quality prime beef production to be their own domestically-produced product, and we’d certainly see the predominance of that,” he continued.

“But that’s not exclusionary; what we have to offer is something unique.”

‘Stand out from the crowd’

Claudia Saumell, Middle East manager with Bord Bia added that she has seen “some promising traction” with buyers.

“Last year, we had promotions in some stores in Saudi and the buyers tell us that the grass-fed messages give them a reason to list [products],” Saumell said.

The grass-fed standard would allow us to stand out from the crowd and that gives the retailer an opportunity to command a slight premium, so it’s a win-win.

Saumell said that in the last few years, relationships have intensified with chefs, “particularly in fine dining”.

She added that there is the opportunity during the pandemic to show the foodservice that they are supported during this “very difficult time”.

“The industry has been very grateful for this support and that will strengthen the long-term loyalty to Irish beef,” she said.

“Covid has hit badly, but we think the chefs in Dubai have been able to rebound quite quickly, they have looked for the alternatives to maintain their outlets’ functioning.”

‘Irish Grass Fed Standard’ starting to make its mark in the UK

Last autumn’s launch of Bord Bia’s ‘Grass Fed Standard’ marketing initiative is helping to deliver an enhanced profile for Irish beef in the UK, according to the organisation’s senior manager for meat and livestock, Joe Burke.

Also Read: ‘Irish Grass Fed Standard’ starting to make its mark in the UK

“The feedback we are getting from both the trade and consumers is confirming this welcome trend,” he added.

“We went on to television in the UK on the back of the launch and we intend to follow this up, particularly from a digital marketing perspective, in the very near future.”

The ‘Grass Fed Standard’ allows Bord Bia to track and verify the percentage of grass consumed in the diet of Irish beef herds.

“We are the first national organisation to go down this road,” Burke added.

Strong market demand for grass-fed beef

Over a number of years, Bord Bia has carried out research with customers and consumers across Europe and key international markets, which highlighted a significant market demand for grass-fed products.

This research showed that more than half of consumers surveyed globally agreed that grass-fed would influence their choice of beef; some 64% claimed to be willing to pay more for grass-fed beef; and “natural, healthy and premium are the terms most strongly associated with grass-fed beef”.