Your National Beef Checkoff Program: 25 Years and Counting

Your National Beef Checkoff Program: 25 Years and Counting

You might remember seeing the television commercials with actor Robert Mitchum kicking off the "Beef. It's What's for Dinner" campaign in May of 1992. After a brief stint with a "Beef. It's What You Want" slogan in 1988, the checkoff returned to "Beef. It's What's for Dinner" in 1999, but this time featuring the deep, powerful voice of cowboy actor Sam Elliott for nearly a decade. And that brings us to the checkoff's, latest radio ads which have tantalized taste buds for beef since 2007 with a sultry recognizable voice reminding consumers that beef is not only good tasting – but good for them. Yes, beef is still what’s for dinner. And these efforts to keep it that way over the years are thanks to your investment in the national Beef Checkoff Program, which is wrapping up its 25th year in operation on behalf of the cattle ranchers, farmers and importers who pay into the program nationwide. In this second part of a six-part series celebrating the beef checkoff’s silver anniversary, we’re focusing on the historical accomplishments of your checkoff investment into beef promotion. (In case you missed it, the overview of the series is available at this link and the four installments following this one will address each the four other areas in which the checkoff invests – research, consumer information, industry information, and foreign marketing.)

Consumer Advertising
The launch of the checkoff’s $21.7 million beef promotion campaign at the start of the national checkoff program in the fall of 1986 marked the largest concentrated promotion campaign that the beef industry has ever launched – even to date. And it’s still the only national self-help program that the industry has operating on its behalf. Since the early days of the checkoff, however, “promotion” programs funded through the beef checkoff have included far more than consumer advertising – with things like foodservice and retail promotions and partnerships, as well as new product initiatives and veal promotions. But consumer advertising remains an important anchor in the overall strategy to increase consumer demand for beef. And the success level of the “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner” campaign and its predecessors has been tremendous, according to industry standards. For example, consumer recognition of the beef industry slogan has reached as high as 86 percent during its run – a level that any number of huge corporations with budgets exponentially larger than the checkoff would be pleased to boast. With its recognition and creative television, radio and print commercials over the years, the checkoff’s promotion campaign helped first slow the decline, and later turn around consumer beef demand, which had been spiraling sharply downward in the 1980s. As the industry changed over time – and other checkoff program areas focused on helping cattlemen improve the quality and consistency of the product they offered to fickle American consumers, so too did the focus of the promotion campaigns. Amid today’s health-conscious consumer population, the checkoff is proud to boast that 29 cuts of beef qualify as lean – a quality that market research identifies as near or at the top of consumers’ list of demands from beef they purchase today. The checkoff advertising campaign focuses on that, as well as other consumer demands, like convenience and, always, great taste. As checkoff expenses have increased dramatically while revenues have not, the producer leaders who serve on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and state beef councils have worked diligently to leverage every dollar to the fullest extent possible. In fact, the latest comprehensive econometric model identifying the value of a cattleman’s checkoff dollar indicates that producers get a return of $5.55 for every dollar invested. (Remember, the checkoff cannot single-handedly turn around a bad market, so even at times when the market may not be as strong as producers would hope, this indicates that their dollar-per-head investments certainly are making things significantly better than they would be without the checkoff. That’s an important concept to understand when it comes to measuring the checkoff’s results.)

Other Key Promotions
The list of promotion program achievements funded by the beef checkoff goes on and on. But let’s go beyond advertising and take a look at some of the key promotional accomplishments of your Beef Checkoff Program during its first 25 years:

• Based on important muscle-profiling research that the checkoff completed near the turn of the century, the checkoff launched Beef Value Cuts into the marketplace, giving consumers increased choices for steaks and roasts from single muscles in the chuck and round. These cuts – including the flat iron steak, petite tender and ranch cut from the shoulder clod, the sirloin tip from the knuckle and the Western griller from the bottom round – increased the value of the chuck and round by creating steaks and roasts with quality taste, tenderness and price points that consumers were seeking. Now selling at the rate of 15 million to 20 million pounds a year, Beef Value Cuts have been a big hit with consumers, some available in tens of thousands of restaurants and supermarkets nationwide, as the checkoff continuously works on promotion of these and other new cuts. In 2010, for example, the checkoff introduced six more new cuts from the beef round – including the Santa Fe Cut, the Round Petite Tender, the San Antonio Steak; the Tucson Cut, the Braison Cut, and the Merlot Cut – in options suitable for retail and foodservice sectors.

Foodservice partnerships have garnered as much as $60 in promotions from restaurant and other foodservice companies for every dollar invested in the same promotion by the checkoff. While that number varies from year to year – though always remains at a ratio strongly in favor of the checkoff program – the foodservice sector of the industry clearly sees value in working directly with cattle producers to deliver your quality product to consumers – and it’s putting its money where its mouth is. The checkoff also supports an award-winning foodservice marketing campaign, known as BEEFlexible, which dishes up new ideas for chefs and restaurant operators looking to offer creative beef items that attract consumer attention.

• Just having a good product isn’t enough. You have to get that product to consumers when, how, and in the form they both desire and understand. That’s where the checkoff’s Beef Made Easy program and other training sessions, promotional materials, and partnerships have stepped in. They have helped retailers improve their beef merchandising strategies to present a growing number of beef items to their meat and freezer cases in a way that is attractive and meaningful to buyers.

• After developing a Long Range Plan for veal promotion, the checkoff has worked with major restaurant chains to get veal added to their menus, especially in the last few years. During the last 18 months, for example, 14 restaurant chains – including BUCA, The Palm, Carabba’s Italian Grill, Flemings Steakhouse & Wine Bar, and others – have added veal to their menus, thanks to checkoff partnerships and promotions.

Even this short list of makes it clear that cattle producers and importers who volunteer to make decisions about how to spend their and your checkoff dollars are resourceful. So the next time someone asks you, ‘What has the checkoff done for me lately?’, you can start with an overview of its 25 years of PROMOTION accomplishments.

Up next week, in Part 3 of this series, is checkoff-funded RESEARCH.

The Beef Checkoff Program was established as part of the 1985 Farm Bill. The checkoff assesses $1 per head on the sale of live domestic and imported cattle, in addition to a comparable assessment on imported beef and beef products. States retain up to 50 cents on the dollar and forward the other 50 cents per head to the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board, which administers the national checkoff program, subject to USDA approval.

08.15.2011