A decade ago, the craft beer industry in Alberta took off. With major policy changes to minimum production capacities in the mid 2010s, smaller craft breweries tripled in just a few years.
As brewing increased in Alberta, so did the hops, grain, and barley farmers – disrupting the province’s agriculture industry and growing a base of brand-loyal consumers who value high quality. Could the same concepts work with Alberta beef?
Calgary-based Janus Solutions is one organization working toward building, organizing, and fostering Canadian craft-oriented beef. An industry that puts the producer first, while giving more choice to consumers. Run by a tight-knit team of self-proclaimed ‘mavericks,’ with decades of experience producing, processing, and marketing in the Canadian beef, food and beverage, and livestock industries, Janus is now turning their attention to craft beef. They’re working with people at all levels of the supply chain who have a passion for making change.
“[Producers] here in Alberta have spent decades dialing in how to make exceptionally good cattle,” said Janus Solutions President Larry Dalton. He cites one of the biggest barriers for craft beef is a producer’s focus on the size of the cow because the product is sold by the pound.
Janus’ vision is to focus on the quality and story behind the beef to attract consumers who value where their food comes from. The company is building ecosystems and expandable modular abattoirs as a parallel disruption to the two-processor world of beef. They’re creating smaller, closed-loop systems and encouraging collaboration amongst all aspects of the supply chain.
“The mixture of art and science in agriculture means there’s a lot that can go into that to develop the kind of meat quality and standards people are interested in purchasing,” said James Bradbury, Principal of Bradbury&Company and strategic partner at Janus Solutions.
With smaller production volumes – starting at 50 but staying under 300 head a day – producers can carve off some of their product for streamlined craft production.
Janus works with its customers to create a system where everybody across the value chain gets transparency and control.
Bradbury explains that, like craft beer, branding craft beef is done in food service. Once a brand is established, retailers will bring that brand on in higher volumes.
“To be noticed as a craft, you also need to be recognized by craftsmen,” said Bradbury. “And a lot of the time, that’s a chef.”
Educating on craft beef
Modern Steak has served high-quality food in Calgary for nearly a decade. With three locations around the city, the restaurant directly sources artisan beef from local ranchers. Focused on what they call ‘edutainment,’ Modern Steak takes great pride in representing both Alberta beef and their producers, while also providing an illuminating food experience their customers can’t get from a store. They’re the only steakhouse in the province to own their own Black Angus bull and an exclusive line of craft beef.
Owner Stephen Deere says the commitment to quality and the relationships with producers are changing the business model from a volume game to selling the story of exceptional beef that is sourced differently.
“These ranchers and farmers are starting to see that you can actually do something smaller to get more profitable,” said Deere. “They’re starting to realize that their ranches and their family names, or ranch names, are now becoming something that is marketable.”
Deere says understanding the story of his beef and taking ownership of the relationships puts a healthy pressure on everyone to ensure the product is great. He’s often joked with restaurant guests that if there’s a problem, he can get the rancher on the phone right away.
One of their signature dishes, the ‘Filet Trio,’ includes a filet from three ranches. Just like a sommelier with wine, guests are taught to sample each filet from the lightest to the fullest.
“The best compliment we can get is: ‘I never realized beef tasted so different,’” said Deere.
Integrating the value chain
Going forward, Deere wants to see Alberta beef achieve some sort of Protected Designation of Origin, like other benchmark products around the world such as Champagne, Parmesan cheese, or Kobe beef – but it won’t work without broader collaboration.
“It is going to be a very special dance of producers and marketing boards and restauranteurs to be able to bring it together,” said Deere.
The Janus Solutions team seems to agree. They have plans to construct up to three of their plants in Alberta, and up to 10 across the country in the next five years, creating options for producers and making craft beef more broadly available to conscious consumers.
“There’s a lot of players on the supply and value chain,” said Bradbury. “Trying to get all of those together and integrated is a challenge unless you start from scratch, so that’s what we’re doing. We’re breaking the system.”
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