Here’s a marketing conundrum for you – how do you sell the health benefit of a new beef product to consumers who know everything and nothing at the same time?
That’s the challenge facing the GreatO Beef brand. Based on a proprietary feed ingredient and cattle research with Kansas State University, GreatO Beef is working to find its niche in a competitive and cluttered retail meat case. And it plans to make a place for itself using two strong consumer trends – the desire to live a healthier lifestyle, and the taste, convenience and affordability of ground beef.
“Our vision is to create healthier animals, healthier people and a healthier world,” says Todd Hansen, president of NBO3 Technologies, parent company of GreatO Beef brand. He’s doing that with a beef product that contains omega 3 fatty acids.
In humans, omega 3s are touted to contribute to cardiovascular health and help with diabetes, brain function, inflammation and pain, among other claims. A 4-oz. ground beef patty made from an 80-20 mix of Great O Beef contains around 200 mg of omega 3 fatty acid, says Steve Landgraf, manager of Lakin Feedyard at Lakin, KS. While the FDA hasn’t established a minimum RDA for omega 3 fatty acids, fish oil tablets commonly contain 300 mg of omega 3s, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
The trouble is, Landgraf says, people often don’t understand omega 3s and have been told they’re available only from cold-water fish like salmon or in pill form. That means GreatO Beef has a long and steep road to travel to convince consumers to try its ground beef. While Landgraf doesn’t discount that challenge, he says Great O Beef has a distinct advantage – “It doesn’t taste like fish.”
Landgraf, who supplies the cattle for the GreatO Beef brand, says the process starts with a proprietary flax-based feed ingredient developed by NBO3 Technologies. NBO3 stands for Naturally Better Omega 3.
The research initially looked at flaxseed as a health benefit for high-stress animals. While the initial research showed an animal health benefit, NBO3’s main focus was looking at possible benefits to carcass traits. That’s where NBO3 discovered that flaxseed provides a significant boost in omega 3 levels in both the outside fat and marbling. Since then, research has shown improvements in breeding efficiency, milk production and other production traits.
From the perspectives of both human and animal health, the discoveries are important. Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid necessary for proper body function, but it isn’t produced by the body. It must be ingested.
While the research found a variety of health and production benefits for beef cattle, NBO3 Technologies is just beginning to explore the possibilities in the feedyard and meat case, Landgraf says.
In the feedyard, “We’ve seen a little better gain, a little better yield,” he says. “But I can’t say right now how many pounds of gain, things like that. We know there are benefits, but can’t put numbers on paper yet. We’re still testing the protocol to see what works and what doesn’t.”
But that doesn’t mean they don’t have solid numbers behind the feed ingredient. Outside of the documented effect of boosting the level of omega 3 fatty acids in the fat, its greatest benefit for cattle, to date at least, has been in dairy cows.
For the past several years, dairies have been using the proprietary flax-based feed ingredient. “That cow is running real hard,” Landgraf says. “She’s putting out a whole bunch of milk, and that’s a stress. By putting the omegas in (the feed), it’s helped quite a bit on the amount of milk dairies are getting, and the rebreeding efficiency. And it’s helped on the life of the cow; she lasts more cycles.”
As NBO3 Technologies launches GreatO Beef, that relationship with the dairies ensures a supply of feeder cattle well suited for the branded program. For several reasons, the group has targeted ground beef as its roll-out product. As the omega 3 fatty acids are deposited in the fat, it allows the company to provide a product that delivers a consistent level of omega 3 to customers. And in a ground beef market, dairy steers are nearly ideal.
Supply chain challenge
“Both the advantage and the disadvantage of our product is that the entire animal is changed,” Hansen says. “It creates supply chain planning challenges as we go forward.”
The greatest challenge is what to do with the higher-value steaks. But that’s a problem both Hansen and Landgraf say is solvable. Hansen has a background in marketing and merchandising; prior to joining NBO3, he was with Koch Industries and Hormel Foods. Landgraf was both a fed cattle buyer and a meat salesman for IBP (now Tyson) and National prior to joining Lakin Feedyard.
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GreatO ground beef has been test-marketed in several retail stores, and early results are encouraging, Hansen says. While their target market is health-oriented consumers, their research shows the product has appeal across a wide range of consumer demographics.
That means their challenge going forward is primarily consumer education, helping people understand they can get an added health benefit from a product they know and love already. To Hansen’s mind, pricing will have a lot to do with how quickly and to what extent consumers will try the product.
Much of their beta testing thus far has been to determine how much of a premium the product can carry, and how best to reach consumers with point-of-purchase information. The product is priced below natural and organic, yet promises to deliver a health benefit that consumers understand. That’s a combination they hope will entice consumers to try the product.
While the sweet spot in pricing is a moving target, the health benefits are the bedrock upon which they can grow the product, Hansen says. They’re not shooting for the “natural” market in their production practices, but their production practices change the beef’s nutritional profile. Thus, they’re marketing the product as “naturally better.”
Initially, they plan a Midwest rollout, and Hansen is guardedly optimistic. “It depends on consumers’ willingness to pay for a real product benefit,” he says. But they have ambitious targets for growth. “We started with the Midwest, but we certainly see it growing across the U.S. and export.”
Landgraf agrees. “Maybe the first time, consumers will try it because they want to be healthy,” he says. “Then the second and third, they buy it because they like it.”
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