A group of South Dakota cattle producers recently traveled to the east coast to learn more about what today's consumers want.
"It's important that producers of beef have a clear understanding of what beef processors expect as well as what influences the buying decisions of everyday consumers," said Adele Harty, SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist and beefSD core team member.
beefSD is an intensive two-year educational program designed and led by SDSU Extension to take participants to the next level in beef production.
"Participation in beefSD is an excellent opportunity for beginning producers to increase knowledge and understanding of all aspects of the beef industry and develop the skills needed to be successful," Harty said.
The beefSD tour began in Washington, D.C., where class members toured the North American Meat Institute, visited with Senate Ag Committee Staff, met with Commodity Markets Council President, Gregg Doud and visited the Australian Embassy. Then, the group traveled to Philadelphia and New York City.
In New York, the group toured Strassburger Steaks, a family-owned meat procurement business; Stew Leonards of Yonkers, a family-owned grocery store chain; Hudson and Charles Butcher Shop, a locally-owned butcher shop in mid-Manhattan and Hello Fresh, a mail order meal service.
In Philadelphia, the group toured Sysco Philadelphia, a large distributor of food products to foodservice businesses that distributes nearly 1.6 million boxes or $111 million of beef per year.
During their tour of this facility, beefSD classmates took in a consumer panel coordinated by Sysco Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Beef Council. The panel was designed to inform South Dakota producers on what consumers - specifically millennials - are looking for, where they find their information and what decisions they are making regarding their food choices.
"What surprised us most was realizing that people rely so heavily on social media to get their information on what they eat and where they eat," said Ronda Wollman, a cattle producer from Pierre who was on the tour with her husband, John. "We as producers need to be watching what is being put out on social media so we can support what is accurate and correct what is wrong."
John added, "It was very evident that producers need to be more active on social media to share their story so that the consumer can have a better understanding of where their food comes from and how it is raised," he said.
The beefSD class was very engaged in the conversation and listened to what panelists had to share.
"What surprised me most about the consumer panel was that they talked about not eating beef very often, citing that they didn't know how to prepare it or didn't want to spend more on beef versus another protein source," said Sarah Myers a Winner cattle producer. "As we consider eating habits in the Midwest, and especially rural areas, we need to remember that beef isn't always the center of the plate across the country."
When panelists discussed purchasing decisions, Newell cattle producer, Theresa Bruch was surprised by the impact labeling had on those decisions. "I was really shocked how much the millennials buy food off of trigger words such as antibiotic free, hormone free and happy cows," she said. "It was also shocking to me that their place of research fell on Pinterest if they wanted to gain more knowledge on what to eat."
Throughout the week, beefSD classmates also took in various unique dining experiences to better understand the opportunities of east coast consumers. Some of these included: Old Ebbits Grill in Washington, D.C.; Talula's Daily in Philadelphia and Keens in New York.