By STEVE BROWN
SEATAC, Wash. -- Washington beef consumers are less swayed by grocery store prices and health concerns than U.S. consumers overall. Also they are more apt to buy grass-fed, local and organic beef.
Attitudes like these are what the Washington State Beef Commission looks at when planning promotional projects.
"We fund things based on hard data and research," said Patti Brumbach, executive director of the commission.
During the commission's recent strategic planning meeting, the commissioners studied the results of nationwide and Washington state consumer surveys by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. The Washington survey was based on more than 400 interviews with people in the Seattle and Tacoma metropolitan areas.
The NCBA, funded by the Beef Checkoff, gathers the information regularly to improve domestic consumer preference for beef and to strengthen the image of beef and the beef industry. The checkoff collects $1.50 every time a bovine animal is sold. One-third of that is for promotion and research at the national level; two-thirds stays in the state.
"We pool our resources at the national level for things we can't afford to fund," Brumbach said. "With the state share, we can localize the national programs, like funding ad blitzes using the creativity generated by the national folks."
The impact of outreach programs is measured in "impressions," the public relations standard measurement of the number of times consumers see a message.
For example, presentations at culinary schools reached 200 "chefs of tomorrow," or 200 impressions, said Rob Noel, the commission's director of promotions.
Commission staffers also described other programs. Bridget Coon detailed the social media outreach, including 7,000 likes on Facebook, 2,300 Twitter followers and a new blog, "Ranch Wife Life." Online advertising reached 29.5 million.
The summer grilling program at Fred Meyer groceries, including radio spots, made 8.5 million impressions and led to 65,000 pounds in sales.
Jackie Madill said four consumer blind-tasting events made 4,000 impressions.
The biggest event the state beef commission sponsored in 2012 was the Seattle game between Washington State University and the University of Oregon. A stadium full of people, the broadcast on ESPN, a tailgate party competition and 10,000 chili samples made 2.8 million impressions, Noel said. Radio advertising alone made 14.3 million.
Brumbach said she had not tallied up the whole year, "but all impressions aren't the same. There's a difference between an online advertisement and hosting a chef to join a farm tour."
Mike Mitchem, center of the plate specialist at US Foods, said he toured several farms courtesy of the beef commission and found it an eye-opening experience. As he hosted a ribeye steak dinner for commissioners at the US Foods plant in Fife, Wash., he said his company is now using far more Washington beef -- 300,000 pounds so far this year compared with 20,000 at this time last year.
One benefit is the cost of transporting the beef. It's about 4 cents a pound from Eastern Washington vs. 14 to 16 cents a pound from the Midwest. Just as important, he said: "The pride in menuing Northwest beef."
US Foods' custom cut shop produces "a cut of meat for every market," the NCBA's Todd Johnson said.
Mitchem said the best thing ranchers can do is to provide a consistent product. "The branded programs have had so much success," he said.