My View From The Country

Should We Meet Consumer Desires, Or Educate Them?

Mainstream media does not provide a filter, but has become a conduit for the misinformation of activists.

I visited last week with cattlemen involved in a small branded beef program called Red Rock Beef. I’m amazed by how much they’ve learned about consumers since they started marketing directly to them.

These producers have been heavily involved in mainstream cattle production for quite some time, so they would be considered extremely knowledgeable by anyone’s standard. And their direct contact with consumers has added considerably to their knowledge base about the challenges of marketing and how the consumer views our product.

Some people claim to be “grass farmers” and others “beef producers,” because of their focus on particular aspects of production. However, I think most of us would consider ourselves simply cattlemen or cattlewomen. Yet, every person I know who has ventured into a branded beef direct marketing system has undergone a fairly radical transformation – changing their focus from cattle to beef, and from markets to consumers.

As a bystander, I was lucky to hear a rather unique conversation between one of the owners of the Red Rock Beef brand and a consumer. The consumer asked if the branded product was free of the hormones and antibiotics in other meat. This program does sell an all-natural product, but his response was surprising to me. He explained that the product was raised without growth promotants and antibiotics, but that conventionally produced beef normally available at retail was also completely free of them as well. I was impressed that this rancher took the time to educate consumers about the overall industry.


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The misinformation that is out there among consumers is startling. This branded program does sell an all-natural product, but its true selling advantage is simply taste. Its buyers pay a premium for a better eating experience, and the success of the program seems to validate that it delivers on that promise. 

This scenario does raise the point, however, as to whether the industry should be educating consumers with the facts, or simply responding to their desires, even if those desires aren’t based on fact. Without question, the industry must continue to educate consumers about how our cattle are raised, the healthfulness of our product, and the industry’s positive impacts on the environment and the economy.  This is becoming more and more critical as the misconceptions and falsehoods about our product are repeated and re-repeated to the point that they’ve become almost universally accepted truths.

Cattlemen tend to be shocked at how misinformed the consumer is about our industry, but it’s not because they are naïve or lack intelligence; rather, it’s because it’s all that the consumer hears or sees. Mainstream media does not provide a filter, but has become a conduit for the misinformation of activists. Perhaps all cattlemen need to become beef producers, and then beef advocates.

The opinions of Troy Marshall are not necessarily those of or the Penton Farm Progress Group.


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Discuss this Blog Entry 7

on Aug 15, 2014

As the late Max Brunk said......paraphrased......

"Consumers educate producers......not the other way around"

Avatar (not verified)
on Aug 15, 2014

Both educate and listen to the consumer. But remember that, while the branded beef producer's consumer is the person buying the beef, for those who market at weaning the "consumer" is whoever buys their calves. The latter producer's responsibility is to pass along to the next phase a calf capable of eventually producing a safe, wholesome product, nothing more or less. That responsibility does not mean that a cow-calf producer has any "responsibility" to produce a calf that will necessarily meet all of the needs of the branded producer. Price mechanisms direct what is produced, not some empty appeal to produce what is "good for the industry as a whole".

macterbob (not verified)
on Aug 18, 2014

Last time I heard someone mentioning the education of consumers was President Obama saying he needed to do a better job educating us on Obama-care

Dennis Hoyle (not verified)
on Aug 19, 2014

The customer is always right. For example I understand that beef is losing market share to chicken while demand for grass fed beef appears too be growing. I don't care why, I am going sell grass fed beef as long as the demand is there. In addition to taste, tenderness is a big deal in a satifying eating experience. I eat grass fed beef because I like it not because I am not educated.

on Aug 19, 2014

I agree with Avatar, Both is needed. The cattle industry does little to advertise to general public. Like this magazine, you are going to get like minded (pro beef) people here. Talking to us does little to get the word out generally. If you take a poll in a conservative media, of course the results with be overwhelming conservative. One must reach out to the general population to form a general consensus. Face it, no one, self included, likes to see hundreds of cattle in a feed lot or dairy, standing in shit up to their bellies. You improve an image by improving a process. Temple Grandin is a perfect example.

MCK (not verified)
on Aug 19, 2014

I just went by a new "grass fed" facility last week. It is a nice confinement building with fence line bunks. They are contractors to a large company that sends "grass fed" beef to major retailers and internet customers all over the country. Yes they do not feed the cattle corn but, the cattle get every othertype of by- product feeds with some ground forage mixed in. When looking at the meat in the meat case it has a nice bright white fat. Their customers seem to really like this "grass fed" beef. What a nice education! If we are going to continue this debate USDA needs some clearly defined specs on what is "grass fed" so consumers can really be educated.

Avatar (not verified)
on Aug 19, 2014

USDA does have requirements for labeling grass fed. Just Google "USDA grass fed marketing claim standards".

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What's My View From The Country?

As a fulltime rancher, opinion contributor Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.


Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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