Urban meat consumers found to be turned off by cowboy image

Staff report

DENVER: Mel Coleman, founder of Coleman’s Natural Meats, told attendees of the National Bison Association convention to leave their cowboy hats at home if they wanted to sell health-oriented meats to urban consumers.

In his company’s consumer focus panels, a key finding was that urban consumers were turned off by Western clothes and images.

“As a ranch-raised Westerner this finding was a huge shock to me. Apparently, urbanites connect the cowboy look with the rodeo and Marlboro cigarettes.”

He said many urban consumers consider the rodeo inhumane with its televised images of calves hitting the end of a rope and appearing to almost break their necks.

Thanks to years of television commercials and movie characters, he said cowboys are seen as unhealthy people who smoke.

Coleman said this misunderstanding of the difference in viewpoint between urban consumers and rural producers was the primary reason why most alternative meat producers failed.

“At one time there were 51 Natural Label meat companies. Most are gone today because they didn’t understand their customers and didn’t know how to market.”

Coleman said in his first year in business in 1979 he only sold 50 head. Now he sells $70 million worth of beef a year.

He buys cattle from 700 different ranchers. These ranchers typically only supply 100 head a year. All meat is source verified and the producers much submit to a production audit and provide an affidavit swearing that no artificial hormones or antibiotics had been used.

He said one result of not implanting the cattle was that his cattle typically graded 85 to 90 percent Choice.

He said that the key element in surviving in the meat business was to create a brand name that actually meant something to the consumer.

“They thought a brand was the logo on their package, but a brand is personality and authenticity.

“What do you believe in? Does your product reflect this?

“You have to be able to relay your passion to the consumer. And you have to realize that some of them aren’t going to like you.”

He said marketing consisted of two elements. One was to promise the customer a benefit and the other was to deliver a consistent product.

He started out selling to health food stores - went to supermarkets - and then returned to health food stores.

He said supermarkets’ only marketing tool was price advertising. He said you cannot sell a premium priced product in such a marketing environment.

“The only product we sell in supermarkets is our hamburger meat.”

He said finding a market for hamburger meat should be the first focus of anyone wanting to market meat.

“Your ground meat consumer is your number one customer concern because that’s the product you produce the most of.”

He said he doubted organic beef would ever be competitive with his Natural branded product as long as it was grainfed.due to its much higher feed costs.

“I don’t think the consumer will pay a whole lot more just for an organic label.”

© by The Stockman Grass Farmer

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