A&W Canada is now committed to hormone-free beef, but its Mama and Papa burgers might not come from Canadian cattle.
In September, A&W Canada announced that all of its burgers will be made with beef produced without added hormones or steroids. With the decision, A&W becomes the first national burger chain to go hormone-free.
To satisfy its new marketing campaign, known as “Better Beef for a Better Burger,” A&W Canada will buy its beef from ranches in Canada, the U.S., Australia and possibly other countries.
“We purchase as much beef as possible from Canadian farmers, but there simply isn’t enough available to satisfy our requirements for beef raised without added hormones or steroids,” said Susan Senecal, A&W Food Services of Canada chief marketing officer, in an email.
“We currently source beef from farms in Western Canada and continue to work with the Canadian beef industry to seek out new ranches across the country.”
In 2003, following the BSE crisis, A&W said it would buy 100 percent Canadian beef to supply its Canadian restaurants.
Spring Creek Ranch in Vegreville, Alta., is listed on A&W’s website as a supplier of hormone-free beef to the burger chain. A Spring Creek spokesperson said demand for beef free of growth promotants is greater than supply.
To meet escalating demand, the ranch, which operates a feedlot, is actively seeking beef producers that raise cattle without the use of hormones or antibiotics.
“There is a lot of interest in our program from ranchers across Western Canada; some people are already raising cattle according to our protocol but without selling into our program they aren’t getting paid a premium for their calves. Others simply need to make small changes in order to fit the protocol and realize a premium price for their cattle.”
Gina Teel, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association communication manager, said the CCA doesn’t know the percentage of Canadian cattle raised without growth promotants.
“We don’t have the ability to track those stats and as far as I’ve been able to find out, nobody does.”
Ron Glaser, vice-president of corporate affairs and operations for Canada Beef, said it’s quite possible that there isn’t sufficient hormone free beef in Canada to meet A&W’s needs. However, since Canada exports a large chunk of its beef, several niche beef markets in the country might be underserved.
“When you hear one company say, ‘Well, we can’t source what we need,’ that might be true. But it’s a larger question of supply and demand in the marketplace and what is the market actually demanding,” he said. “Right now these are typically niche offerings… it represents a relatively small amount of total production. That is a reflection of demand.”
Looking forward, if demand for hormone-free beef intensifies, Canada’s cattle producers will adjust accordingly, Glaser said.
“The industry is pretty fluid in its ability to meet those needs. If producers feel they are being properly rewarded, they can change over fairly quickly to these other types of production systems… The market will eventually speak to producers.”
Teel said Canadian cattle ranchers are free to choose production practices that satisfy a particular marketing objective and food service companies are always developing campaigns to differentiate their product.