SUBSTANTIAL opportunity exists in the interest millennials have in the way cattle are raised, fed and processed, for beef brands willing and able to leverage it.
A key component to realising that potential will be the ability to manage supply chain risks.
That's the way marketing executive Ali Hart sees the fast-growing consumer awareness of provenance and sustainability.
Ms Hart works with her family's premium grain-fed beef business Stockyard Beef, which operates the 20,000 head Kerwee feedlot in Queensland's Darling Downs along with a Wagyu breeding herd in northern NSW. Stockyard's award-winning brands are distributed to more than 20 markets internationally.
The third generation of Harts to help run the vertically-integrated beef operation, Ms Hart said evolving to meet changing consumer needs had always been a core part of Stockyard's success.
To be able to do so, Stockyard builds partnerships up and down the supply chain, rather than simply conducting transactions.
It follows a rather cutting-edge strategy it has named the 'Dynamic Alignment Model' and Ms Hart provided an outline of how, and why, it works at this year's Australian Lot Feeders' Association conference, called SmartBeef Bites and held virtually this month.
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Up close with millennials
She started by explaining why millennials are a unique generation the beef industry must get to know very well.
Ms Hart spoke about the growing emergence of documentaries like Fight for Planet A, Cowspiracy and Kiss The Ground, all of which contain a core message that intensive livestock production does not have a place in a sustainable future.
Perhaps one of the most powerful, she said, has been A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough, who recommends eating less meat as one of several solutions to climate change.
"None of this is news but what is new is that influential people and celebrities are coming to the discussion," Ms Hart said.
"Attenborough holds the the record for the fastest Instagram account to reach a million followers.
"This is the level of influence we are up against in our fight to defend our licence to operate."
People like David Attenborough have enormous sway with millennials, the generation born between 1980 and the early 2000s.
"Trust and ethics are big drivers of their purchase decisions. Research shows 40 per cent of millennials would walk past a brand if it didn't align with their values," Ms Hart said.
"At Stockyard, we are noticing trends in food safety, animal welfare and traceability - these are key reasons people buy from us.
"It's likely the millennial influence we are seeing in these trends."
Millennials are entering into their prime spending years, are more likely to buy expensive products, more likely to dine out and are tipped to be the largest generation, outstripping even the baby boomers.
"It stands to reason there is a significant opportunity here and one that grain-fed beef can capitalise on if we tailor our product to their values and build trust," Ms Hart said.
"Millennials hold high expectations about a business' ethics, values and how it engages with society - possibly more than they hold for the product itself.
"When a consumer looks at a brand like Stockyard, they attribute our entire supply chain to what they see, including the elements we don't have control over.
"In today's world, there is simply no room for an out-of-sight, out-of-mind beef production model.
"Beef brands like Stockyard have to be accountable for the entire end-to-end supply chain."
How does a brand ensure it measures up?
Stockyard started by tending to it's own backyard. It adopted industry initiatives like CN30 (red meat's goal of being carbon neutral by 2030) and the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework.
"We've also set targets that will stretch us in the sustainability space, with financial incentives and disincentives applied to that," Ms Hart said.
"Importantly, we're not doing all this just because consumers want it, or because the bank or our industry is pushing us towards it.
"To have lasting impact in the race to win the affection of millennials, you have to fundamentally agree with what you are doing.
"And we are just one cog in the wheel."
That's where the alignment model comes in.
It's based on a theory of splitting the people a business deals with into three categories: family, friends and customers. The goal is to find those in the supply chain who most support your growth strategy - that is, the family and friends.
"Family should make up most of your customer mix and those at the other end (customers) are people with whom your relationship is purely transactional," Ms Hart explained.
"We then work to cut those out of the supply chain who are not aligned. It's about directing where you invest your time and resources and identifying those who pose a reputational risk to the brand."
The strategy has also been implemented with those who supply cattle to Stockyard.
Stockyard ranks suppliers based on attributes like loyalty and price, volume and consistency of supply, alignment to strategic goals, professionalism and appetite for innovation.
"We're able to focus our attention on the suppliers who will take us where we want to go," Ms Hart said.
"Eventually these relationships turn into partnerships. There is a greater degree of influence over each other's business and ultimately that allows us to be more nimble in meeting consumer needs."
Outcomes include a stronger brand story, being more efficient and more resilient to adverse markets.
"Given how the cattle market is at the moment, this model can't be of more value," Ms Hart said.
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