Friona has worked at developing and participating in alliances for the last 15 years. As one of the nation’s largest cattle feeding organizations, Herring explains, “We thought the value of our company was being a facilitator.” Today, he says, “We have a relationship with Cargill in a vertically aligned production system, with products channeled into a number of different brands based on tenderness.”

Although brands aren’t an alliance prerequisite, they do seem inherent in the ability of alliances to grow and retrieve added value.

Arguably, this focus on the end product satisfying specific consumer need represents the primary evolution in alliances over time. In the beginning, alliances had more of a push-through feel to them, borrowing from the industry’s past. By and large, the predominant alliance mantra seemed to be, “If we get enough of the same kind of cattle together to produce enough of the same kind of carcasses, they should be more valuable. So we should be able to command a higher price.”

james herring on alliances

For the most successful alliances, the opposite seems to be the guiding principle: “What do consumers want and what are they willing to pay for? If we can provide that to them consistently, then we have a chance to make them happier and find ways to benefit ourselves.”

A common characteristic of the most successful at employing strategic alliances seems to be a slavish devotion to delivering what they said they would. That is both born and begotten by a commitment to fostering and shepherding the kind of trusting relationship that can withstand the inevitable surprises that accompany a business founded on live cattle and the weather.

To the former, Herring explains, “A brand is a promise to consumers. A brand is only a brand if it delivers on the promise to consumers every time.”

In other words, products carrying meaningful brands must be as consistent as the sunrise. That means everything going into creating the product must be as reliable.

“Genetics, procurement, the delivery mechanism, management, everything must be consistent and deliver on that promise to the consumer,” Herring emphasizes.

Friona depends on 80 preferred suppliers and backgrounders it developed in six national regions. “We’ve grown a cottage industry of people who we trust and who trust us, people we have created big business with,” Herring says.

By developing and working with these preferred suppliers, Herring explains, “That allows us to dictate production and management further down the chain. That translates into more production efficiency and a clearer understanding of quality.”

Herring explains the production efficiencies are manifold: everything from reduced procurement costs to reduced morbidity and mortality in the feedyard.

At its core, the alliance means a dependable supply chain for customers and a dependable market for suppliers.