SURVIVORS: THE SEQUEL
Paul Welsh, Contributing Editor
You've heard the network promos. A group of people, all ages and genders, many who are meeting for the first time, are brought together on an island with money as the motive.
But that's the Survivor television series. In this sequel, participants on Drovers Cattle Business Tour 2000 came together on an over-the-road bus in order to survive changing times in the beef industry. Survival for this cast is not a game. These agrimarketers are competing for beef producer dollars and seeking greater insight into their customers. Without a doubt, profit is the motive.
The group was as diverse as the television show, but in many ways more interesting.
There were characters like:
* Amy Aust, the first person on the bus, who was one of eight adventurers from Colle & McVoy Marketing Communications.
* Leon Yantis, tattooed veteran of the livestock industry and executive vice president of Ritchie Industries.
* Jean Rogers, bright-eyed marketing maven who recently traded in her career in the hospitality industry to help feed ruminant animals for Diamond V Mills.
* Jamie Krug, an account executive for McCormick Advertising, the only guest spirited enough to return on tour for a second straight year.
* And Tom Beaulieu, savvy Elanco marketing professional who put industry education ahead of the Indiana Pacers "game six" showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers. (Thinking about it, maybe that wasn't a bad decision).
All told, 20 agrimarketers joined the Drovers staff for three days of interaction with industry experts who shared views on everything from seed stock to end-consumers. At times, the bus ride had the flavor of Raiders of the Lost Ark as Bob the driver negotiated tricky Flint Hills cow paths in what was definitely not an all-terrain vehicle.
"We used to do informal tours for one client at a time and they were always well-received," says Greg Henderson, editor/associate publisher of Drovers and one of the Vance Publishing tour hosts. "Three years ago, we decided to charter a bus to accommodate more of our clients."
For some of the bus jockeys, their cattle business knowledge was basic at best. Others visit the field frequently and really know the industry. Yet, everybody found the Drovers format gave them new insights to the beef business.
Cliff Becker, group publishing director for the Vance Livestock Group, says, "There's a lot of change occurring in the beef industry, and at every point along the distribution channel there is a stronger focus on consumer wants. Our intention was to give our guests a better understanding of the complex beef marketplace."
Terry Marrone, project manager at Pfizer, regularly rides with field sales people, but this tour gave her a different view of the industry. She says it was "a real eye opener" to visit every segment of the industry in a short time period and see how they relate to one another.
Leon Yantis of Ritchie Industries, who spends a lot of time in the field, said the Tour drove home the fact that beef producers are so diverse you can't expect to sell them with a single approach. One producer lets cattle roam on thousands of acres while another gains his advantage through sophisticated grass management.
Julie Sauber, account executive with Colle & McVoy, agrees saying there doesn't seem to be a "typical" beef producer. Having grown up with dairy cows, the Tour gave her a real life definition of the various stages of beef production.
RETRACING TOUR TIRE PRINTS
The tour brought beef production and marketing to life with stops that represented every step along the channel. Here are the stops arranged according to industry segments.
Category: Seed Stock
Expert: Mark Gardiner, Gardiner Angus Ranch, one of the five largest producers of seed stock in the United States.
Key Take: Mark believes that today an animal without a genetic record is not worth the purchase price regardless of what is paid. He said it is his dream that someday livestock auctions will display genetic information on every herd before bidding starts. He feels the only way to deliver a consistent product to the end consumer is to know the history of the animal.
Expert: Randy Mills, Doyle Creek Ranch, commercial cow-calf operation that uses the principles of total quality management to speed genetic improvement and enhance profitability.
Key Take: Producers like Randy are concerned by their tight margins and are increasingly focusing on good ranch economics. They track genetics through stringent culling and ongoing carcass data collection and evaluation with the goal of delivering a consistent product, not just to the feedlot, but in turn to the end-consumer.
Expert: Alan Hess, Hess Ranch, and also president of the Kansas Livestock Association, offered the perspective of a stocker operator as well as an overall view of the beef industry.
Key Take: The beef industry is both progressive and complex with a lot of different segments influencing the quality of the final product. There has to be a synergy between the segments in order to provide the quality beef demanded by the end consumer.
Expert: Pete Ferrell, Ferrell Ranch, 10,000 acres of custom grazing and a progressive proponent of rotational grazing.
Key Take: The successful beef producers today are business people first and cattlemen second. You have to utilize analytical thinking to examine every aspect of your operation to deliver quality beef at a profit. If someone wants to sell Pete a product, they need to sell ROI benefits. Tour participants marveled at how whole herds of cattle moved from section to section with Pied-Piper ease.
Expert: Mark Knight, Knight Feedlot Inc., feeds up to 13,500 animals annually and has a sophisticated milling operation on the ranch.
Key Take: Changes in the beef industry are far flung, ranging from breeding to marketing to milling. Tour participants were especially interested in Knightís milling operation, which used products from many of the companies represented by Tour participants.
Expert: Bernie Hansen, Flint Hills Foods, processes beef into branded products that are distributed in supermarkets.
Key Take: The time is ripe for new beef products that are innovative and enjoy the highest level of quality control. New beef products, however, need to be consumer friendly for time-starved families with dual wage earners.
Expert: Various guides, IBP
Key Take: This IBP plant in Emporia, Kansas is responsible for $1.4 billion annually in sales, processing 22,318,450 pounds of beef in a week. And that's just one IBP plant. Quality of the cattle is important so even with the significant volume passing through, the higher quality beef is identified, separated and records are maintained.
Experts: Jon Wissmann, Hen House Supermarkets, and Craig Huffhines, American Hereford Association
Key Take: Hen House Supermarkets have contracted to sell nothing but Certified Hereford Beef in their stores. They made this decision in order to maintain consistency and quality, both of which are demanded by their customers today.
Not a person was voted off the bus in any kind of tribal ritual if that's what you're wondering. In fact, all these "survivors" proved to be winners. Giving up three full days away from the office is a significant investment of time. Nevertheless, getting smarter about the changing industry made it a good investment.
Wayne Anderson, marketing communications manager for Zinpro says, "Whether you're a rookie or have been in the industry a long time, it's good to get out and see the changes first hand."
That's how you survive in changing times. AM
Paul Welsh is a freelance copywriter and marketing communications consultant based in Leawood, Kan.