COVID-prompted changes proved beneficial: beef sector

The challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic actually led to changes that industry leaders say will be good in the long run.

Improvements at packing plants and changes in how the sector communicates with consumers are here to stay, they said during the Saskatchewan Beef Industry Conference.

Tyler Bjornson, who handles government relations at JBS Brooks, said the company has introduced more than 100 different mitigation measures, ranging from basic personal protective equipment to partitions on the line to changing pedestrian flow from the parking lot so that those coming are separated by a partition from those going.

These types of changes will be permanent, he said.

Canada Beef president Michael Young said the demand for beef was strong through the early part of 2020 and remains so, even though people have tight food budgets.

“When it came down to the crunch, where people thought maybe there’s going to be a food shortage in this country, what did they go for? They loaded up beef like it was going out of style and it was not cheap,” he said.

Young said the agency changed its international approach. Usually, demonstrations and samples are key to marketing in Asian countries in particular.

But these places also use QR codes extensively, and Canada Beef has begun using them on marketing material. Potential customers scan the code and get the information they need.

Domestically, Young thinks QR codes will become more common and close the communication gap with consumers.

“What you’re going to see is an actual QR code for every single beef cut we are aware of and every one we can possibly think of bringing into the system,” he said.

Persuading younger consumers, who live on their phones, to use the codes for nutritional information or cooking instructions is key, he said.

They and Titan Livestock’s John Lawton appreciated government help, but Lawton questioned why a set-aside program designed to manage cattle slaughter backlogs is now on the back burner.

“I’m a little disappointed that they walked away from that concept saying that we’re all free and clear,” said the cattle feeder. “Last I checked COVID risks are as high as ever and we’re very vulnerable going forward. By the time they gear the program up again if needed there’ll be significant hurt in the industry.”

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