As I was doing research for the article on competition from imported grass-fed beef, I found a very interesting story being told about Uruguayan beef by one of its sellers. Sprouts Farmers Market paints a picture that describes Uruguayan beef as more flavorful, and more consistent in quality than American beef, and even as more environmentally friendly. They also describe difficulties getting the supply of American beef they need. A little more research reveals that Uruguay has been paying a lot of attention to what potential customers are looking for, and they’ve built their entire industry around providing just that. In the process, they’ve “differentiated” their beef, so that now, it’s something that meat brokers and consumers look for and prefer.
Here’s what Sprouts Farmers Market says about their Uruguayan beef:
“Our phenomenal, fresh, grass-fed Sommers Organic Beef is the most flavorful we have ever tried – and we have done a lot of blind taste tests! It comes from cattle raised in Uruguay, the #1 choice for “those in the know” at top U.S. supermarkets. Why Uruguay? There are not nearly enough domestic sources to keep up with demand for organic beef. Uruguay is easily the top supplier of grass-fed organic beef in the U.S., because of their long tradition with livestock and standards that most experts feel are higher than those in the U.S. (Note: Since Uruguay has summer and spring year-round, it is grass fed without the need for any feed to substantiate their diet.) All of our Uruguayan organic beef complies with USDA rules for handling, feeding, processing and testing – and is in fact certified by the highly respected independent Oregon Tilth.”
Really? It meets all the USDA standards? Yes, and Uruguayans have worked hard to make it so. In 1995 they rid their herds of Foot and Mouth Disease, and to maintain that status they have banned imports of live animals and/or genetic material from countries affected by FMD or other exotic diseases. This allowed them to begin exporting uncooked meat to other countries. The country has also actively promoted its brand, creating the “Certified Natural Meat Program of Uruguay.” Certification guarantees that:
- Growth hormones were not used (in fact they’re banned in Uruguay)
- Antibiotics were never administered to promote growth
- Animals were never fed proteins of animal origin except maternal milk.
- All animals in the program were grown, raised and fattened on a grass diet. (Restricted supplementation levels are accepted to support grazing.)
- Animals were never been confined to yards or feedlots at any time in their lives, and were raised in open pastures year round.
Uruguay is also one of the first countries in the world to be able to trace individual animals back to their origins, and they use their tracking system to make sure that farmers and slaughter plants comply with sanitary requirements. Now, they are currently developing plant layouts capable of tracing each individual cut in the deboning line back to the animal it came from. This, coupled with the fact that Uruguay is also classified in the lowest possible risk category for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, makes Uruguayan beef very attractive to consumers.
As you can see from all this, Uruguay has positioned its product to meet all those qualities that are in demand by discriminating consumers, particularly those consumers that American grass fed beef producers are targeting. This isn’t a problem if you’ve already got adequate markets for your product. But the Uruguayan’s success is something to keep in mind if things change. Then American producers might considering modeling their own marketing efforts after this small heart-shaped country to the south.
Kathy – Very interesting article about the Uruguay cattle. We have been raising bison under the exact same standards for 17 years now. The Sprout’s Farmers Market info is correct – you can actually taste the difference.
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