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Best of NAMA 2020

by Candace Krebs, Contributing Editor

Editor’s Note: Agri Marketing caught up with Chuck Schroeder, chief executive officer of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association since 1996, during the group’s annual convention in February in San Antonio. Below, Schroeder addresses issues affecting the beef industry.

AM: What are the biggest issues facing your members?

Schroeder: Enhancing the opportunity for profitability across all industry sectors. So we’ve started focusing on some very key issues. One of those is convenience. We developed more than 300 new beef products that are now in the marketplace. They’ve principally come from the chuck and round, which are deeply undervalued sections of the carcass.

We have focused on nutrition - both research and communication. We are pointing out that lean beef is essentially equal to poultry in cholesterol-reducing diets. Big news to moms was that CLA, a component of beef, is critically important to cognitive development in young children. That’s a very powerful message to our target audience. We also targeted our resources on food safety, including research into intervention steps for keeping pathogens off of the product and communicating to the industry about best management practices. Consequently, we were able to report to consumers that they are receiving the safest product at any time in history.

We also are targeting some of our dollars to the international marketplace. We had a record year in 2000. The volume of exports was up 12.5 percent and the value of exports was up 17.5 percent. We have to recognize the only source of wealth for this industry is the consumer. We’ve focused on that, but we’ve got to keep our eye on the ball. Consumers change. Tastes change. Demographics change.

We are unveiling an industry long-range plan that builds on the momentum we established during the last three years. We have two primary goals. We want to increase demand for beef by 6 percent during the next three years. That’s an audacious goal that should attract the imagination and energy of the industry to it. At the same time, we want to focus on enhancing and protecting the business climate for the industry. When the industry is making money, then we have the opportunity to have a dynamic and profitable beef industry. We think it’s heading in the right direction.

AM: How has the NCBA merger made your organization more effective?

Schroeder: We were able to report to membership at this convention that due to organizational efficiencies, during the last five years we have taken $14 million out of organizational costs. We’ve been able to target those dollars on programs as well as saving dues dollars for those programs. Almost $2.8 million annually has been cut out of our operating expenses. In addition, office consolidation, as difficult as it was, has led to projections that we are now saving $700,000 annually by having one office.

AM: You have avoided a referendum on the beef checkoff, but the pork checkoff recently failed. Why are producers now questioning their industry marketing and promotion programs?

Schroeder: Saying producers are questioning them is a relative statement. There were approximately 84,000 verified signatures on petitions submitted relative to the beef checkoff. We have almost 1 million producers in this country. We have to recognize there are an additional 920,000 who did not challenge the checkoff.

We have tried to be accountable to producers in demonstrating what we are doing with the checkoff dollars. Development of more convenience items out of the chuck and round, the investments that we made in nutrition research and communication of that research. I’m not sure who else would have told that story. The work we’ve done on the food safety side. More than 80 percent of discoveries from checkoff-funded research have been implemented by the industry. For anyone who knows about technology transfer, that is an extraordinary rate of adoption. I don’t know who else would have done that work. AM

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