Blindfolded on a rollercoaster, not knowing what twists and turns are coming next—this year in the beef business was filled with uncontrollable upside-downs and unexpected lurches.

The impacts of COVID-19 make 2020 a ride no one will soon forget.

For the first time in 16 years, the Certified Angus Beef ® brand will finish the year down in year over year comparisons, but 2020 remains one for the history books. For the fifth consecutive year the brand marketed more than 1 billion pounds across 51 countries. Global sales totaled 1.175 billion pounds, down about 6% or almost 75 million pounds.

“We’re prepared and positioned today to support our partners’ business recovery and growth as we move forward,” John Stika, Certified Angus Beef  ® president, says. “We’re fortunate to be in good shape because of the combined effort across our community.”

Managing through widespread crisis is not unprecedented for the beef brand. In 2004, when BSE disrupted the beef industry, brand sales declined 80 million pounds, a fairly similar volume decrease for 2020.

“In 2004, total sales of Certified Angus Beef ® were roughly 43% of what they are today, and as a result, that 80 million pound loss in business that we experienced then translated into a 13.3 or 13.5% decline in both tonnage and resources compared to the 6% we’ll manage through this year,” Stika says.

“We’re prepared and positioned today to support our partners’ business recovery and growth as we move forward. We’re fortunate to be in good shape because of the combined effort across our community.”
John Stika

President, Certified Angus Beef LLC

The brand remains stable with a steady supply, and Stika looks to the future with expectations for business growth.

Riding the Rails

The brand began the fiscal year in October 2019 working through lingering disruption from the packing plant fire in Kansas. That time period challenged the international business and the ability to secure retail feature activity, especially moving into the holidays.

Foodservice, on the other hand, was on record pace.

With a combination of manageable prices and availability in January and February, sales across all segments strengthened. This landed both months among the top 10 sales months in Certified Angus Beef ® history.

March finished in the history books’ top 10, too.

While the month saw foodservice and international business decline by 40% due to the onset of COVID-19, consumers transitioned their buying patterns. Retail business spiked, all but offsetting the decline experienced in other areas.

At the peak of the pandemic in April and May, foodservice and international sales were down 72% and 64% respectively. Retail business was up almost 44%.

June brought continuity reestablishing itself in the supply chain and moved into fall with two months of 100 million pounds or more.

Putting all 12 months together, retail had a record year increasing by 12.3% while foodservice and international sales are down roughly 22%.

Supply Set to Meet Demand

The Angus family farmers and ranchers who own and supply the Certified Angus Beef ® brand remain focused on raising cattle that meet brand standards. In 2020, a record 35.9% of all Angus-influenced cattle managed to meet the brand’s 10 quality specifications. Their efforts enable licensed processors, distributors, restaurateurs and retailers to consistently meet consumer demand—that remains strong in a rollercoaster year.

Stika says the brand’s focus is helping meet that demand, though how diverse segments serve consumers may look different moving forward. Closing the books on 2020, he’s grateful and optimistic.

“For as much as we have enjoyed the past, our focus cannot be on saving the past,” he says. “Rather our focus will be on changing, evolving and being more flexible so that we can really excel for our partners in the future regardless of what it looks like.”