In a year labored by uncertainty, opportunities exist for those willing to look.

Different avenues for leading business. New means to connect. Products that fill a need.

In a socially distanced world, more than 1,100 people from the U.S. and 26 countries gathered online for the Certified Angus Beef ®Annual Conference, a record attendance for the event.

Ranchers, meat packers, distributors, grocers and restaurateurs together in a virtual room made the supply chain feel smaller, each seeking go-to-market strategies to deliver high-quality beef to consumers.

“As we look at the Covid-19 impact, it hasn’t necessarily changed consumer demand for quality beef,” John Stika, Certified Angus Beef ® president told attendees. “It just changed dramatically where and how they look to access it.”

In a year marred by a pandemic recession, the brand will still end 2020 with more than a billion pounds sold.

“You have to be amazed, when you think of what we’ve gone through, that demand would stay this strong,” said Randy Blach, CEO of CattleFax. “And we’ve done it basically with one hand tied behind our backs.”

Public health ordinances shifted consumers from foodservice to retail, creating one positive unintended consequence: consumers got more comfortable in the kitchen.

Chris Dubois, senior vice president of protein for IRI, told the crowd this creates a terrific retail opportunity. To capitalize on this shift, he recommended marrying tools with sales to keep beef at the top of the grocery list. These consumer resources could include the brand’s Roast Perfect app, recipes and inspiration for cooking beef.

Ecommerce growth in grocery is also worth investment. Dubois shared online sales activity grew across food at 50-60% this year and meat ecommerce sales are up 100%.

“The retailers, processors and packers who get ecommerce right are going to have more success than those who ignore the trend,” he said. “This is where you’re really going to see the separation in the next three years.”

International business is slowly gaining momentum again after early 2020 strong signals were stopped in their tracks.

“We feel like the fundamental demand for U.S. beef has remained quite strong in our key markets,” said Joe Schuele, vice president of communications for the U.S. Meat Export Federation. “For the global meat trade, especially high-end products to reach full potential, we need to return to normal economic activity.”

The brand continues to prioritize deepening relationships with global consumers. Highlighted personalized marketing tools include a French and Japanese version of the Certified Angus Beef ® brand logo and a new website for Spanish-speaking consumers,

The other place for premium growth exists with Certified Angus Beef ® brand Prime.

“Is there enough high-quality Prime animals in the marketplace to build a business around it?” Blach asked the audience. “The resounding answer is yes.”

The national Prime beef supply, which used to make up only 2-3% of beef, is now at 10% of the fed-cattle supply, or 2.6 million Prime beef carcasses.

In the past two decades, beef’s market share of consumer spending also grew. Blach shared that beef makes up nearly half of the dollars consumers are spending on proteins compared to 40% in 1999.

Launched in February, the brand’s consumer loyalty program, Steakholder Rewards, invites consumers to a richer, more meaningful brand experience and rewards their beef purchases.

While foodservice continues to work harder than ever to sell little, discussions centered on solutions for keeping things premium during times of cost-cutting. Shared ideas included live trainings, menu ideation with brand chefs and leveraging value-added items to save on labor.

“When I look at what the people are doing to drive their businesses forward during difficult times, whether cattlemen or restaurateurs, it’s really exciting,” Stika says. “And we’re just glad to be alongside them, helping to drive momentum.”

Remaining relevant in an ever-changing marketplace requires adaptation and change. Attendees heard updates to the brand specifications and learned about sustainability initiatives. The first-ever Certified Angus Beef ® Sustainability Award was presented to Beef Northwest and Wilson Cattle Company of North Powder, Ore.

The brand’s first virtual conference centered on celebrating successes by highlighting award winners, providing vision for the future and tangible business solutions for today.

“This brand was started to create value for everyone that produces and touches it through the production and merchandising chain,” Stika said. “As I look at where we’re at today, I think we’ve been able to re-center on the things that are important to ensuring value moving forward for our partners.”