Gordon Food Service Distributor Show: A growing appetite for product transparency

By Patti Dollarhide, R.D., director of beef value chain alliances

The food service industry, much like the cattle industry, is built on relationships. We develop a network of people we want to do business with, trade ideas with and eventually trust.

Recently at the Gordon Food Service (GFS) show in Grand Rapids, Michigan, it was evident that the company’s food service customers are looking for suppliers they can trust, including those who provide beef.

GFS took a big step to demonstrate they value their customers and suppliers by providing an attempt at product transparency with a new program called “Clear Choice.”  Each of their vendors, including beef suppliers, were asked if the items they provide meet the criteria for one or all of six attributes. If their customer wants to find products that have one or more of these attributes, they can now locate them with a quick sort of the GFS product catalog.

Attributes and descriptions:

  • Cleaner Ingredients, meaning one, several or all of the following “no’s” are met:
    • No artificial flavors, preservatives, sweeteners, thickeners or emulsifiers, color from artificial sources, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, trans fats or GMOs
  • Specialty Agriculture:
    • Certifications are in place for USDA Organic, Food Alliance or Biodynamic
  • Animal Care:
    • Certifications for one or more: American Humane Association, Animal Welfare Approved, Cage Free, Crate Free, Free Range, Global Animal Partnership, Grass Fed, Pasture Raised, Raised without Added Hormones, Raised without Antibiotics
  • Sustainable Seafood:
    • Certifications in place for one or more: Aquaculture Stewardship Council, Best Aquaculture Practices, Marine Stewardship Council, Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch
  • Ethically Sourced:
    • Third-party certifications in place: Fair Trade, International Farmer Direct Sourced, Rainforest Alliance
  • Environmentally Friendly:
    • Third-party certifications in place: Biodegradable Products Institute Compostable, Compostable and Biodegradable, EcoLogo, Green Seal, Made from Recycled Materials, Made from Renewable Resources, SaferChoice

Beef fits in five of those six “Clear Choice” boxes. (Sorry, we cannot make the grade for Sustainable Seafood!) No doubt, the descriptions of the GFS attributes will mature and continue to be reviewed.  Transparency is a journey we are on together. How timely it is for the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (USRSB) to be working on six similar attributes, and put compliance targets in place to help our beef industry continue to improve. See more from USRSB here: https://www.usrsb.org/. Kudos to GFS for showcasing what their vendors are already doing, as well as setting targets for the future. Learn more about GFS’s Clear Choice program here: https://www.gfs.com/en-us/products/clear-choice.

Educational sessions were held in conjunction with the show. The BCI presented “What’s the ‘Beef’ about Beef, Health and Sustainability?” for healthcare, and college and university food service leaders as well as distributor salespeople. Participants noted they learned new information about the beef industry. Normally the message they receive is to reduce beef consumption. It was refreshing to have an engaged audience who learned something new as a result of the information.

Relationships –– what a pleasure to reconnect with industry food service professionals that I had worked with since 1995 and trust. This food business gets in your blood just like raising cattle. More than 20 years later, my colleagues are still asking their distribution partners to find quality products at a reasonable price, but now we also want to feel good about our purchases and what we choose to eat.

Food service customers are asking for more transparency. Beef producers know the answers. Let’s figure out how to translate them to the people who want to enjoy eating beef.

 

#FarmFoodTour: Changing perspectives

By Patti Dollarhide, R.D, director of beef value chain alliances

How does life on the farm look to those who are three generations or more removed from production agriculture? More specifically, to those who write about food for a living? That was my burning question before the 2018 Kansas #FarmFoodTour, sponsored by the Kansas Farm Bureau and Kansas Soybean Commission, and the reason I was so thrilled to attend the event. To farmers and ranchers, opening your agricultural business to people armed with social media skills and cameras could be intimidating, especially with the activity fall brings: harvesting crops, moving cattle, hustling to school events and more.

Consumer surveys tell those of us who work in agriculture it is important to connect with our customers and to be transparent about what we do. The Kansas Farm Bureau and the Kansas Soybean Commission made that possible for a group of eight women with expansive social media followings. The women, food and lifestyle bloggers and urban dwellers met, Kansas agriculture head on by devoting an entire week to see for themselves where food comes from and how it is handled.

Check out the hashtag “#FarmFoodTour” on Twitter and Instagram and decide for yourself if the tour had an impact on what the bloggers are now sharing with their readers. There are positive comments, aha moments and beautiful photography. Their photos show what our farmers and ranchers do, and what our consumers sometimes take for granted. Cattle, pigs, children, corn, combines, tractors, pumpkins, pasture flowers, beautiful fresh food and a lifestyle that is difficult to comprehend unless you see it firsthand. Those ladies left Kansas with a new appreciation for who our farmers and ranchers are and what they do.

Coordinators Meagan Cramer, Kansas Farm Bureau, and Jancey Hall, Kansas Soybean Commission, know the power of letting people first look, and then ask questions.  Meagan and Jancey recruited Amy France, a Kansas Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers representative from Marienthal, who shared the farmer’s view throughout the tour. She spoke from the heart as she talked about her own family, the economics of farming and the decision processes that are part of choosing how to produce food. I was ready to talk hormones, antibiotics, low-stress animal handling, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), but the gal next to me wanted to better understand grass, hay bales and why a rancher would move an animal to so many different places on the same farm, let alone sell the animal to someone else.  Some lightbulbs came on for all of us during our three-day trek across the state on a Wi-Fi-enabled bus (a necessity for a blogger). I was amazed how they worked to develop their personal brands with their writing styles and photos they posted tirelessly. The bloggers were surprised at farmers’ and ranchers’ vast knowledge from  animal husbandry, advanced technology and marketing, to government regulations and politics –– and that they also take on significant personal financial risk.

A special thanks to the tour hosts: Craig and Amy Good, Good Family Farms, Olsburg; Derek and Katie Sawyer, Sawyer Land and Cattle, McPherson; Clint and Amy France, France Family Farms, Marienthal and Scott City; Lee Reeve, Reeve Cattle Company Garden City; Forget-Me-Not Farms Dairy, Cimarron; Matt and Amy Perrier, Dalebanks Angus, Eureka; and Scott Thellman, Juniper Hill Farms, Lawrence. The bloggers saw the passion our farmers and ranchers take in handing down their operations to the next generations and the pride they have in producing safe and wholesome food for the world.

More information:

Kansas Farm Bureau
Kansas Soybean Commission 

Good Farms Angus
Sawyer Land and Cattle
France Family Farms
Reeve Cattle Co., Inc.
Forget-Me-Not Farms
Dalebanks Angus 
Juniper Hill Farms

Patti Dollarhide is a registered dietitian and director of the Beef Cattle Institute’s beef value chain alliances.