By Morgan Boecker
Through genetics and progressive management, the opportunity exists for cattlemen to earn premiums on cattle sold.
Those premiums translate to more high-quality product available to the consumer through retail or restaurant avenues. When they choose the Certified Angus Beef ® brand, it boosts demand.
“Folks want the best beef, and they seek it out,” said Paul Dykstra, Certified Angus Beef (CAB) director of supply management and analysis. “As a result, the premium structure of the beef industry has developed around the brand and the attributes that it represents.”
During Angus University at the 2022 Angus Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, CAB shared ways producers focused on raising high-quality beef can be more connected with the brand.
The first of its kind, CAB got its start in 1978. Since its inception, 101 other USDA-certified beef brands developed, and as of now, 80 of those also have Angus in the name.
While the competition is growing, the brand’s team of 150 diligently works to differentiate CAB from the rest of the pack. Consumers can feel confident purchasing the Certified Angus Beef ® brand, a high-quality product that is the result of Angus farmers’ and ranchers’ commitment to quality.
As demand grows, producers receive these market signals in the form of premiums throughout the supply chain. Capturing those takes genetic, marketing and management strategies.
Marketing for a Premium
Accessible premiums motivate that. Nearly 85% of North American packing plants are licensed to certify carcasses into the Certified Angus Beef ® brand.
The first and most simple piece of CAB qualification is that cattle be predominantly black-hided, defined as having no white behind the shoulder, above the flanks or breaking the midline (excluding the tail). According to USDA data, more than 70% of fed cattle are Angus-influenced and meet these criteria, Dykstra said.
Then, those eligible carcasses must meet all 10 of the brand’s specifications: (1) modest or higher marbling, (2) 10- to 16-square-inch ribeye area, (3) 1,100-lb. or less hot carcass weight, (4) 1 inch or less fat thickness, (5) medium or fine marbling texture, (6) 30 months of age or younger, (7) superior muscling, (8) no neck hump exceeding 2 inches, (9) practically free of capillary rupture, and (10) no dark cutters.
In 2021, CAB premiums reached $182 million, or roughly $500,000 paid daily by licensed packers to owners of cattle qualifying for the brand. That incentive is the market communicating strong demand for the leading brand of premium beef.
“CAB premiums are happening all through the supply chain, even if it doesn’t always get its own line item on a receipt,” Dykstra added.
Farmers and ranchers have a history of success in hitting a market target with a financial reward. While retaining ownership through the feedyard is the most direct way to earn CAB premiums, there are more ways to capture some of that.
Cattle should be marketed in a way that communicates the potential value they hold under the hide. For seedstock breeders, it’s by making sure customers know this potential and the value of the genetics they’re buying, Dykstra said.
“When those commercial feeder calves are weaned in the fall, a phone call to a feedyard or cattle buyer is a basic but great place to start. If they’ve got the genetics backing them up, that’s greater marketability for the seller,” he said.
The Right Genetic Base
The more cattlemen produce for the brand, the more beef CAB-licensed partners can sell. Last year that total came to 1.234 billion pounds, the second-highest sales year on record. The brand’s goal is to sell more than two billion pounds annually.
“We first have to put two billion pounds of the Certified Angus Beef ® brand in a box, and we don’t do that today,” Lee said. The recent average acceptance rate into the brand is 35%, but it needs to be closer to 50% to reach that goal.
“The number one reason carcasses are not successful in earning the brand most often comes down to marbling,” Dykstra said. “That’s why we talk about it a lot.”
Marbling is a lifetime event and highly heritable, so it’s an easy place for Angus breeders to start. The correlations are relatively weak between marbling and many other traits that are important to cow-calf producers, like performance and maternal function, Lee said. Those weak correlations allow for simultaneous progress across multiple traits in a cow herd.
For Angus breeders who put an emphasis on carcass genetics, an easy tool to identify animals with greater potential for those traits is the Targeting the Brand™ logo. Any registered Angus animal that meets a minimum expected progeny difference (EPD) for marbling of +0.65 and Value Grid Index ($G) of +55 can be marketed alongside the Targeting the Brand logo.
Cattlemen need a balanced cow herd, ensuring cows and bulls are also phenotypically correct. Targeting the Brand is simply a marketing tool – a threshold – to quickly identify those bulls and females with the genetic potential to produce more CAB qualifiers. But it also gives them latitude to look for other economically important traits needed in their commercial programs, Lee said.
After marbling, a ribeye too large, heavy hot carcass weight or excessive backfat are the next most common areas where cattle miss certification for the brand.
“We’re not going to capitalize on mating decisions at the consumer level for a few more years,” she said. “So we have to live with those decisions for a long time, whether they’re good or bad.”
With genetics only part of the equation, responsibility falls on cattlemen and women to manage cattle and resources for optimal performance.
An easy and effective way to communicate how cattle are cared for at the ranch is through Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) certification or an equivalent program. “But we really need you to tell us that you’re certified,” she said.
“Not because we think farmers and ranchers are doing things wrong and we’re trying to fix their ways. We’re trying to help producers get more credit for the things already being done,” Lee said.
That’s why CAB launched a rancher-facing campaign called “Cut the Bull.” The campaign highlights BQA certification as a tool for truth for farmers and ranchers to verify the good work they do every day raising cattle. If interested, cattlemen and women can share their BQA or equivalent certificate at CutTheBull.info.
Little details go a long way in differentiating the brand from other programs. It helps consumers feel good about their beef and keeps them reaching for the Certified Angus Beef ® brand on grocery store shelves.
“The new dollars in our business come from the consumer,” Dykstra said. “We get to share consumer dollars back through the beef supply chain based on what we’ve achieved at CAB by each player capitalizing on a margin opportunity. Otherwise, they wouldn’t do it.”