The Washington Beef Commission’s new marketing plan has two audiences in mind: young adults in Seattle and Tacoma, and the rural ranchers who fund the urban promotions.
Puget Sound millennial parents, ages 25 to 34, spend a lot of time online and could be persuaded by social media “consumer influencers” to eat more beef, according to the plan.
“I think we’ve really found a relevant sweet spot,” the commission’s executive director, Patti Brumbach, said.
The plan also calls for informing ranchers about the campaign they pay for but don’t see. The commission hopes to increase producer support for the mandatory beef checkoff. The commission apparently has not won over the Cattle Producers of Washington.
“They want us to pay for marketing, and we’re not benefiting,” Cattle Producers President Scott Nielsen said.
The Beef Commission receives a $1.50-per-head tax on cattle sold in Washington. The seller pays the tax. The state commission keeps $1 and sends 50 cents to the national Cattlemen’s Beef Board. The state commission has an annual budget that has remained steady at about $1.1 million for several years.
The state commission says it doesn’t have the money for a high-profile media campaign. Instead, the commission uses social media and niche events to tout beef.
Last year, the commission introduced to tech-savvy Amazon workers “Chuck,” the “only all-knowing beef expert powered by Google Artificial Intelligence.” Planned for this holiday season is the “Drool Log,” a video of slow-cooked beef rotating.
Research conducted by a consumer survey business, Toluna, informs the campaign. Surveys show Puget Sound millennials prize taste and protein, but they also want to “trust the people that raise beef.”
Through videos and in-person events, the commission seeks to introduce urban residents who know little about cattle production to ranchers.
“When it comes to the Seattle consumer, you need to focus on local producers to be relevant,” Brumbach said.
The survey found millennial parents average 53 hours a week online. Once sold on beef, they can “have significant impact on others to do the same primarily through use of their smart phone,” according to the marketing plan.
Two years ago, the Beef Commission sought to raise the assessment and double its budget. The commission received support from the Washington Cattlemen’s Association, Washington State Dairy Federation and Washington Cattle Feeders Association.
The Cattle Producers, however, were opposed. Their members argued that a beef-promotion campaign may help packers sell more meat, but it hasn’t translated into a better price for calves. With ranchers divided, state lawmakers declined to raise the mandatory assessment.
Beef Commission board members represent cow-calf producers, dairy farmers, feeders, auction yards and meat packers. There is no direct link between the board and the skeptical Cattle Producers.
Nielsen said the group recommended Stevens County rancher Justin Hedrick to be on the commission, but he wasn’t picked by Department of Agriculture Director Derek Sandison.
“We really wanted to have somebody on it,” Nielsen said. “I think they’ve given up on us.”
Sandison interviewed Hedrick and a rancher recommended by the Washington Cattlemen’s Association. Sandison chose the association’s candidate, the second from the group to be appointed, because of a more flexible attitude toward promoting beef, a department spokesman said.
Brumbach said the commission keeps ranchers up-to-date on its work by regularly sending emails. “We’re working really hard on it,” she said.
Nielsen said the emails aren’t the same as having someone on the board.
Brumbach said she doesn’t know of any talk about resurrecting a proposal to raise the assessment.
R-CALF USA, a national cattlemen’s group aligned with the Cattle Producers, is suing to end the beef checkoff in 15 states. Washington is not among them.
R-CALF alleges the checkoff forces ranchers to fund private councils in the 15 states. In Washington, the Beef Commission is a state agency.