When issues strike, it’s important to be prepared and have relationships in place that will allow you to get accurate information to the people who need it.

In a year that has seen the public image of beef impacted by a massive E. coli recall and controversy surrounding “pink slime” in the United States, the Behind the Beef project has allowed BC cattlemen to respond to consumer concerns face-to-face in their local grocery stores.

“Having our educators out in the stores providing accurate information for consumers showed that the beef industry wasn’t hiding or shying away from the issues,” says Kirsten Hollstedt, program coordinator for Behind the Beef.

Behind the Beef is a consumer education and research program started by the BC Cattlemen’s Association to improve consumer awareness and understanding of cattle ranching and the beef industry. The program hires beef educators and provides training on common consumer questions about how cattle are raised and how beef is processed, nutritional information, and advice on how to choose and prepare different cuts of beef.

What started with 12 beef educators in the Lower Mainland, quickly expanded to 20-30 educators located across the province to meet the enthusiastic demand of retailers, fairs and community events. 

In the first year of operations, the Behind the Beef team has attended 864 events, eclipsing their original goal of 400 per year.

“Retailers were very supportive and picked it up quite quickly,” says Hollstedt. “Overwaitea came on board right away, and then we had other retailers, fairs and community events knocking on our door when they heard what we were doing.”

Beef educators visit grocery stores once a month, providing valuable information to staff and customers at the stores. As a result, they were already familiar faces at the local grocery store when the beef recall hit, and were able to get the facts out by providing lists of recalled products and information on food safety practices. Their existing relationship with consumers and the public made them a trusted source for information about the beef industry.

“The majority of consumers felt more comfortable about the situation and felt they could still eat beef once they were given information,” says Hollstedt. “Every link in the communication chain is important. If we can inform one person in the store, they will pass it on to others.”

In addition to the beef educators, Behind the Beef has developed supplemental materials including fact sheets and recipes, as well as behindthebeef.ca, a website where people can access information and ‘Ask an Expert’ if they have more involved questions about beef production.

The project has not only helped the beef industry to get their message out, it has created an opportunity for them to listen and gather information about what consumers really want to know about beef production.

The program is tracking consumer questions and feedback through their beef educators and their website, gleaning valuable insights for the ranching industry as they turn good relationships with consumers into greater value for BC ranchers.

Funding: $825,158 allocated through the Canada-BC Ranching Task Force Funding Initiative. (RTF002)