Safeway customers have taken to the brand in droves. Though sales and volume figures are confidential, the company introduced the brand in a single division; today it's in nine divisions, with multiple stores in each.

More telling, Dolezal estimates the volume of Rancher's Reserve beef is on par with the domestic retail tonnage for CAB. Throw in international and food service sales, and Dolezal says CAB still leads but Rancher's Reserve is growing fast.

For perspective, Rancher's Reserve consists primarily of High Select and Low Choice carcasses. Its price tag is higher than commodity beef of the same grades but less than Premium Choice brands.

“It has been well received because Rancher's Reserve delivers on its promise of tender beef,” Sheeran says.

However, both Sheeran and Dolezal explain the success of the brand has to do with everything that goes into it, from pre-harvest sorting, to post-harvest tenderness interventions, to SSF testing, to Safeway's commitment to train its personnel and age the product a minimum of 14 days in its stores and distribution centers.

“This fits our overall goals and strategies to offer unique solutions to our customers, which enables them to differentiate themselves,” Dolezal says.

For any producer worried that genetics may take a back seat to technology when it comes to providing consumers a tender eating experience, don't be. Dolezal and CMS already traversed that line of thought, hoping it would be possible. Early on, he says, “We thought technology could overcome any seasonality in tenderness, but genetics and management overwhelm it.”

In fact, these days CMS and the life sciences company, MMI Genomics, are working together to devise a DNA test to enable them to start sorting out tender cattle ahead of the feedlot.

Even with the best technology in the world, when it comes to tenderness, Dolezal says, “you still can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.”


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