In Another's Shoes (or Boots)
Its reputation is built on product quality, but people – those responsible for that quality – remain the core of the Certified Angus Beef ® brand. From beginning to end, they keep it alive through an unrivaled commitment. Often, that’s despite little or no interaction with those further down the line. Packer speaks to distributor, farmer to feeder, but what about some of the less likely duos?
For three years, the Certified Angus Beef ® brand has brought beef’s bookends together through a series called “Trading Places.” The goal: to provide experience by doing and perspective by seeing, ultimately strengthening the quality beef chain through relationships and a better understanding of the other side.
Ranchers and chefs, no matter how different their worlds appear at first, are on the same team. One group’s days are usually ending when the other’s are just getting started, but they share more than they might first notice. Long hours, the unknown, generations of tradition and an appreciation for quality. Passion is just the starting point.
“People want to know where their food’s coming from, ‘what’s the process,’ ‘what’s this thing with [the Certiﬁed Angus Beef ® brand]?’” Chef Jeremiah Bacon, Oak Steakhouse, Charleston, S.C., explained after a full day spent with Angus farmer Kevin Yon.
Regardless of any association with the brand, there’s no doubt there’s plenty to learn by time spent in someone else’s shoes – or boots for that matter. By understanding the expertise along the chain, each part can identify the value they bring to the sum.
“I don’t know if you consider yourselves part of agriculture, but we do consider you very much a part of agriculture,” Yon said to Bacon and his staff. “Together, we are a part of food production, providing meals for people. What could be more noble than that?”
A silence said they got it. Heads nodded and chests rose. The 20-oz. Certiﬁed Angus Beef ® brand dry-aged ribeye they were set to push carried new meaning.
“We’ve put three years into the steer going on the plate tonight,” Yon said. “Three years ago, we made that decision.”
“We’re on the two-yard line here,” Bacon added with new enlightenment. A day earlier, he was on horseback driving cattle, driving the feed truck and tagging a newborn calf. Education and real experience provided an unparalleled perspective.
“I didn’t realize what a precise process it was,” Yon said after grabbing a knife to cut 16-oz. steaks with Bacon. “The butcher and chef, they look at every steak as an individual much like we do cattle.” Back home, he’ll carry with him a better understanding and share it with those who will listen.
The similarities in their stories don’t end, although it’s often not until they’re face to face, interacting and asking questions of one another, that things come into focus. It’s in the details and the precision, the passion and the pride, that make up the big picture.
In fact, that’s the goal of so much that happens between, and for, brand partners representing every link in the chain. Understanding product quality is, of course, an important part of the lessons. More important is fostering relationships and understanding between the people who, each in his or her own way, bring it to the table.
Take, for example, the brand’s signature educational course: the Master of Brand Advantages (MBA) program, conceived as the supply of high-quality Angus beef started trending steadily upward to give next-level training to the leaders who would hit the streets to sell it. A three-week intensive course for distribution-house sales staff, it’s serious work and covers not only sales, meat cutting and meat science, but also visits farmers, feeders and packers to understand the entire quality beef journey.
A course as intensive as this, requiring those weeks away from one’s normal duties, over a span of several months, isn’t always feasible. Nor is it always appropriate for less experienced, albeit potential-rich, members of a sales team. That’s why a new one-week Associate’s in Meat course at the brand’s Culinary Center was introduced. Similar to the MBA program, it gives guests a firsthand look, in somewhat less detail, at the entire scope of the brand’s journey to the table.
Eric Moody of Wolverine Packing Co., a member of the first class, said the week exceeded his expectations.
“We were learning from the moment we set foot in the door until the moment we left. I gained more in one week than one year of on-the-job experience. I now know that I can stand behind the Certiﬁed Angus Beef ® brand with the utmost confidence,” he said.
Indeed, many on the sales side know their customers have questions – about cattle care, feeding, handling, nutrition and so much more. Getting the answers firsthand equips them to answer with conviction and pride, as well as perspective on the community that distinguishes the brand.
Every encounter is a chance to build connections, learn from one another and strengthen the network. Like the salespeople who visit The Culinary Center, leading chefs and culinary influencers come there to spend time with fellow culinarians, as well as meat scientists, farmers and packers. That kind of fully immersive and collaborative experience is not only unique to the brand, but also at its essence.
One need not set foot in The Culinary Center, however, to enjoy something similar. Prospective guests can get a sneak peek at its Meat Lab, kitchens and cuisine – and, perhaps more importantly, the camaraderie and collaboration that happens there – via a new interactive 360° video. And, for those new to the brand, the Certiﬁed Angus Beef ® brand University e-learning platform offers a virtual introduction to the community behind the brand. In its first year, more than 4,000 have completed the participatory program.