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February 11, 2021 Trailblazers

Finding opportunity in the midst of catastrophe

No question, the beef industry has been changed and challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our strategic approach has been all about responding, recovering and resetting, as the pandemic continues to disrupt business as usual, creating the next normal.

Retail and food service operators are all responding by experimenting and innovating, recognizing that there are opportunities created in this pandemic for our industry, our supply partners, end-users and consumers. We’re looking to capitalize where we can. My Father used to say, “Son, never waste a good catastrophe.” So here we are, everyone re-imagining their sales strategy with their customers at the same time.

What is holding very strong in retail is the perishable perimeter – the outer ring in the grocery store where consumers select perishable foods – and that’s where everyone is focusing. Fortunately, demand for all proteins is holding strong and many retail operators are reporting 15 to 25 percent increases in beef sales year over year. Canadians are eating more meals at home and reaching for recipe ideas and ways to feed their families on tight budgets, creating an opportunity for us to make solutions available for economy minded consumers.

The categories of delivery, take-out, meal kit and home meal replacements are absolutely booming, an area the beef industry can grow into if we act quickly. Experts say the trend toward home delivery and takeout is here to stay, which means there is an opportunity for us to get creative here to be more competitive.

While food retailers had a good year, foodservice is suffering badly. Between March and December 2020, 7,500 restaurants permanently closed in Canada, with traditional restaurants and casual dining, the hardest hit. This is only the beginning, as additional permanent closures are now happening as a result of the second wave. So far in the restaurant sector, 180,000 jobs have been lost and 100,000 more job losses are expected.

Globally, we’re seeing challenges too. China is no longer functioning as a market-driven economy but, rather, choosing whom to buy from based on COVID infection rates in plants. They have delisted 63 plants and claim they found virus on packaging coming from 20 countries. Fortunately, none of our other export partners are allowing COVID to influence their markets in this way.

However other diseases are also a factor. Avian influenza outbreaks surged this winter across the Eastern Hemisphere and the ban on German pork because of African swine fever continues. We’re keeping producers informed about local and global issues through market intelligence reports and the new website cdnbeefperforms.ca where we share producer-focused data.

We’ve also partnered with the pork industry and government officials to put on a series of webinars on safeguarding the Canadian meat supply in markets important to us, and developed a variety of COVID-19 education and prevention training resources.

At the same time, our marketing campaign continues to drive sales through two messages: “CRAVE” focuses on the younger demographic we need to connect with, while “TRUST” inspires families to share beef stories through social networks using #mycanadianbeef.

One thing COVID-19 has highlighted is the importance of digital real estate. Consumers are increasingly reliant on the Internet for business and personal communication. E-commerce and contactless solutions will not go away, nor will the evolution of QR Codes, which have re-emerged as a useful contactless communication tool.

The biggest success story for us out of COVID-19 is the repurposing of the Beef Centre for Excellence into an advanced video production facility. When the pandemic started, we were looking at a beautiful facility set up to educate, connect, innovate and inspire and we couldn’t bring anyone to it.

We accelerated our plan to move into video production, and our team did an excellent job of converting the facility into a video studio. They’ve produced over 100 videos since March and have aggressive plans for 2021.

Not only will we use this studio to produce videos and webinars to meet our needs, we’ll also offer it to our customer partners here and around the world. We will also continue to offer course learning solutions and engage industry through virtual mission hosting, extending our reach and investment.

In light of the pandemic, the beef industry here in Canada is certainly not wasting a good catastrophe, but making the most of the opportunities presenting themselves in this time of change.

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About the Author

Michael Young
President, Canada Beef

Michael Young has worked in the Canadian red meat industry for over 40 years specializing in beef, veal and pork sales marketing, product development and education in both the domestic and export marketplace. During his professional career, Young has promoted Canadian Beef on five continents and in more than 30 countries.

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