Specialists share their knowledge and passion for premium beef

Since those days as a line cook making his way up the restaurant ranks, Josh Ennis has loved the Certified Angus Beef ® brand. Part of it was the quality reputation, of course. But since becoming a brand specialist at Buckhead Meat Atlanta, he’s come to love it for the people behind it, especially the collection of other specialists he gets to work with regularly.

“We function as a single unit, as a team, and that’s my favorite thing about working with the brand,” Ennis shares. “It’s not just one man on the island—we’re all here to help one another.”

Ennis is one of 166 specialists in foodservice who take the time to learn about the brand and truly understand every aspect. They play an integral role in the entire brand community’s success and are a critical link in the chain.

“Specialists are our eyes and ears in the market, whether near or far. They are the reason we are able to gain so much knowledge,” explains Gebran Charbine, the brand’s director of international and ethnic marketing. “Our job isn’t just to raise demand for high-quality cattle. Our job is to empower these specialists.”

Sysco staff visit Atterholt Farms, Jeromesville, Ohio

Through extensive training, regular communication with the brand’s team and thorough, ongoing engagement, each specialist acts as a champion of the brand in their business. In turn, they help educate and motivate their companies’ sales teams when engaging with restaurateur and chef customers and explaining the brand’s benefits.
To do that, specialists create their own programs. Ennis, for example, invites customers to Buckhead’s cut shop and hosts capsulized Master of Brand Advantages (MBA) training for new hires—all to teach both groups about the very best Angus beef.

Beyond the focus on product quality and sales, specialists’ efforts promote the brand’s values, community and relationship building, too. This year, in the same spirit of the community celebrations that took place at the 40 barn paintings last year, Buckhead Atlanta hosted a celebration like a county fair when the Certified Angus Beef ® brand logo was painted on its warehouse. Other events planned by specialists that both engage the team and help educate them about the brand include food shows, themed customer dinners, meat labs and ranch days.

So important is the specialist role, two of them are recognized annually for their dedication and focus at the brand’s Foodservice Leaders Summit. The awards, New Performer of the Year and Specialist of the Year, are symbols of the goals accomplished and sales increased—thanks to the group’s passion for moving beef along its gate-to-plate journey.

“The specialist role is a big deal,” says Tom Propps, president of Sysco Columbia in South Carolina, proud coworker of Adam Ballard, the 2019 New Performer of the Year.

Ballard, like all who are eligible for the award, has been a brand specialist less than two years, but managed to make quite an impact in that short amount of time.

“Adam loves the Certified Angus Beef ® brand. He loves working with premium proteins and, most of all, he loves working with our customers,” affirms Kris Davis, Sysco Columbia’s director of business resources. “He’s dedicated to asking, ‘if you aren’t buying a Certified Angus Beef ® brand product, why aren’t you?’”

Neil Johnson of Sysco Montana, the 2019 Specialist of the Year, was recognized in part for his thoughtful initiatives to keep his team and customers engaged.

“His passion exudes out, and it doesn’t just affect himself. His customers and sales team see his passion, and it makes him very enjoyable to work with,” says Gale Rhoads, the brand’s executive account manager in the region.

In addition to training their sales teams to sell more Certified Angus Beef ® brand product, specialists ensure their customers—from restaurants to universities and nursing homes—properly represent the brand. Protecting the brand and its well-known trademarks is important for not only the brand’s reputation, but also sales opportunities. Specialists and their teams play a vital role, as a task force focused on securing the brand’s reputation.

Each distributor is charged with goals that include collecting menus, to ensure the brand trademarks are used correctly and appropriately, and for working to resolve discrepancies. The teams keep track of their issues and progress on the Sales Tool app, and work closely with the brand’s staff.

Internationally, brand assurance tasks can be a bigger challenge for specialists, as it is taboo in some cultures to question a business about its practices, including asking a chef about his menu. They also may need to deal with unique consumer objections, extra costs from tariffs, shipping and travel prices, cultural differences, a multitude of beef options and time differences.

“We’re always working to improve our contacts with international specialists to understand what we can do to benefit their business and what drives their success,” says Geof Bednar, the brand’s vice president, international.

Charbine agrees. While it may not always be easy, he says, it’s necessary to reach out to beef leaders, to train them and their teams, and to support them in every way feasible.

Top international specialists Samuel Huan with Shuh Sen Co., Taiwan, and Efrain Ramirez with Atlantic FS SAS, Colombia, stand out as key global ambassadors. Others from Triple J Five Star Wholesale Foods, Guam, and INPELSA, Peru, make the list of focused, motivated champions, too.

Specialists like Huan and Ramirez take pains to ensure the brand’s name is the first to come out of their mouths when speaking with customers, and that the brand’s logo is the first one seen in their warehouses. They also host weekly sales meetings that include brand training, complete with how to properly use the name and trademarks, as well as extravagant customer events.

For Huan, who’s been with Shuh Sen for 23 years, the Certified Angus Beef ® brand offers the opportunity to take a “no pain, no gain” approach to selling beef.

“It has spirit, action, integrity and attitude,” he says. “I’ve visited the brand’s headquarters several times, and I’m always ready to work harder when I get back home.”

Huan isn’t alone in his increased excitement for the brand. This elite collection of passionate, goal-driven, beef-loving sales leaders continues to grow and demonstrate long-term, big-picture commitment in every sector of the foodservice business.

This story was originally published in the 2019 Brand Update.

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