Moving from his Nebraska ranch to Washington D.C., was an eye-opener for Greg Ibach, USDA undersecretary of marketing and regulatory programs, when he saw how much food labeling says to beef consumers.
“They want to have some connection to where that producer grew the food that they're going to eat. They're also hearing messages about climate change and sustainability, and so they want to know how that fits into the way their food was produced. And then, at the end of the day, food safety is very important to them, too,” Ibach says.
It’s easy for cattlemen to say they’re doing a great job on the ranch. But what consumers say counts more.
“So we need to figure out how to listen to them, understand their wants and needs, and then explain to them how we're meeting their wants and needs, because in most cases there's producers out there that are doing exactly what that consumer wants, even if that consumer wants something that's highly traceable, antibiotic free. If they want it to be a Prime or high Choice, there's somebody out there producing it,” he says.
While lifestyles have night-and-day differences, the values shared between consumers and cattlemen are much the same.
“They're worried about their children. They want them to be healthy. They want them to grow up and have good jobs. That's what you want for our children, too, on the ranch,” he says. “And so we share values, and we just have to make them understand that we're the same people and we're headed the same direction.”
Ibach says many ranchers are doing right by consumers, but many more need to be able to prove it.
“And so if you're going to make claims about your food or what you're producing on your farm or ranch, you're able to match up with that certifying group that will help take your claims to the consumer. And so that could be somebody that wants to buy something that's fully traceable and that they're willing to pay extra value for, because they know it was fed in a certain way,” he notes.
Delivering the things consumers want now may be what it takes to do business in the future.