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THE CONSUMER RULES
TENDER BEEF IS CENTERPIECE OF NINTH FARM JOURNAL FORUM
Safeway Inc. and Excel Corporation have joined to create Rancher's Reserve Tender Beef in a prime example of consumer-driven change in the supermarket. The new product is the result of more than 68,000 consumer tests.

A taping of AgDay-TV's "WeekEnd MarketPlace" show at the Forum included National Corn Growers Association President Leon Corzine and host Al Pell.
Currently, the tenderness initiative reaches back to feedlots, and eventually it will change the way cattle are produced on ranches, Mike McGinnis, senior vice president, meat and seafood, of Safeway, told the Farm Journal Forum in Washington, D.C.

The theme of the ninth annual Forum held Nov. 11-12 was "Energizing America's Countryside."

Consumer focus groups complained to Safeway - which has 1,820 supermarkets in the United States and Canada - that they could find tender and shoe-leather-tough steaks side by side in the meat case.

Original research indicated that 40 percent of beef in groceries is tough. Safeway's original goal was to cut that to 10 percent, and the company managed to trim it to 3 percent.

Under the new program, dissatisfied customers receive an apology, a refund and another cut of beef.

"That's like double your money back," McGinnis said. "That's how confident we are that you're not going to have that problem."

The reduction in toughness comes partially from Excel's proprietary slaughter practices, including electric shocks and cracking of an animal's backbone after slaughter.

The two corporations have worked with 308 feedlots. When a feedlot's cattle fail the tenderness test, a warning is issued. A second failure results in a suspension and a 90-day opportunity to make changes in such things as feed and implants.

When Safeway takes the program back to individual ranchers, it will "let them know what they need to do in order to have more tender beef, to make sure the right breed influence is there, the right feeding regimen, the right implants," McGinnis said.

In other speeches to the Forum:
  • Jay Poole, vice president, ag and environmental services for Altria, said that Kraft Foods has reduced fat in 200 products, thus eliminating 30 billion calories a year from the diet.
  • Mark Matlock, senior vice president of food research for Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM), said companies are making enough food to average 3,800 calories per day. The federal government says a male 51 years or older should consume just 2,000 calories per day.
  • Gene Kahn, vice president of sustainability development at General Mills, and other speakers agreed that the popularity of the Atkins diet is waning. "I think people are back on carbs because carbs taste good," Kahn said.
  • Jerry Steiner, executive vice president, Monsanto Co., predicts his company will release soybeans in 2008 with improved flavor and shelf life. By 2011, soybeans will have reduced saturated fat.
  • In roughly a decade, Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. will isolate a new molecule that will change ethanol production by fermenting plant cellulose, said Pioneer President Dean Oestreich.
  • C. Boyden Gray, a Washington, D.C., attorney who was counsel to former President Bush, outlined a goal for agriculture to provide 25 percent of energy consumed in the U.S. by 2025.
  • "It makes me shudder" to contemplate the corn market without the 12 percent share that goes into ethanol, said Leon Corzine, president of National Corn Growers Association.
  • Production agriculture is being held back by farmers demonizing their customers with attacks on processors and exporters, said Criss Davis, former chairman of the United Soybean Board.
  • Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark., worried about the federal budget deficit, predicts the next farm bill will not be as generous as the current one. "We're going to face a very cold fiscal and political wind in our face," he said.
  • Elizabeth Hund, managing director and manager of the western region for Rabobank International, says her bank remains committed to becoming a major lender to U.S. producers even though its offer to buy Farm Credit Services of America failed. "We cannot be the premier in global agriculture if we don't have a major presence in the largest ag economy in the world," Hund said.

The Forum was presented by ADM. Co-sponsors were Monsanto Co., Altria Shared Solutions, United Soybean Board and National Corn Growers Association. The 2005 Forum will be held Dec. 5-6. AM

Sonja Hillgren, senior vice president/editorial of Farm Journal Media, directs the Farm Journal Forum.


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