What once was an Italian restaurant, serving chicken parmesan and lasagna on the outskirts of Wooster, Ohio, now only has one thing on the menu — beef.
The hostess station and the full bar is all that remains from the once garlic-filled establishment, but what Certified Angus Beef has added to the facility, now known as The Culinary Center, is something that will continue to bolster demand for beef products.
“We realized about five years ago that there was a huge need out there with the partners we work with from the grocery business, food service, chefs and everyone in between,” said Mark McCully, Vice President of Production with Certified Angus Beef. “They had a lot of questions about meat production and agriculture so we made the decision to create a venue to bring those folks in and teach them about where the cuts come from, beef fabrication and merchandising, beef quality and the job farmers and ranchers do to supply high-quality meat.”
The Culinary Center consists of a world-class culinary team that is very passionate about beef quality and the Certified Angus Beef brand. These experts help others along the supply chain, from packers to chefs to consumers, learn the ins and outs about beef with demonstrations in a meat lab showcasing top-notch carcasses and learning sessions in a gourmet kitchen on how to best prepare the many cuts that beef has to offer.
“We knew when we built The Culinary Center that there was a need for something like this, but we were surprised with how extensive that need has been,” McCully said. “We have people visiting us from literally around the world to spend a few days with us and submerse themselves in Certified Angus Beef brand products.”
Those visits almost always include a field trip for guests to see an area farm producing Certified Angus Beef. This is an important part of the whole experience given how many people, including those that prepare food, have no farm experience.
“For everything taught inside The Culinary Center, we know how important it is to show our guests a working farm and let them meet the people that are making their livelihoods raising cattle,” McCully said. “A fashionable idea in the food service industry today is locally grown and taking groups out and helping them understand how cattle are raised and how those farming families take care of the animals and the land is vital. It is incredibly rare that we have someone come back from those farm visits where they are not all in and any skepticism that might have had in the past is essentially gone.”
The advantage of hosting high-caliber chefs and other members of the food service industry is that while they learn more about Certified Angus Beef, they are also able to share some of the food trends being seen across the globe, which keeps The Culinary Center ahead of the curve.
“It is definitely a two-way street,” McCully said. “We have the luxury of bringing a group of chefs in and taking a cut of meat that may not be utilized to its fullest and collectively brainstorm some different applications. Chefs are artists and many come back time and time again because they affectionately refer to The Culinary Center as a playground where they can come in and try some different things that they may not be able to try at their restaurant and there has been a lot of creativity in that kitchen.”
For those not so savvy in the kitchen, beef can be a bit complicated with a wide variety of cuts and uses. That is why The Culinary Center also invites in supermarket personnel to educate them about the versatility of Certified Angus Beef brand products, in hopes that those ideas will be passed on over the meat counter.
“Today, employees of your local grocery store’s meat department wear so many more hats and have responsibilities that span farther than being behind the counter,” McCully said. “We have created video training guides in this facility for major retailers to use as education tools to keep their associates current with questions that may be coming from customers or a newer cut that may being promoted or a new recipe application. There is no such thing as too much education and there is always an opportunity to learn more and get better and that is the goal not only for us with The Culinary Center, but for everyone that pays us a visit.”
Providing education about Certified Angus Beef at every level of the supply chain will enhance the experience with beef at the dinner table which, in turn, promotes demand, which has been perennially strong in the U.S. Now, the beef industry is setting its sights on growing that demand overseas.
“Last year, we sold a little over 1 billion pounds of product and about 15% of that would have gone outside of the U.S. borders,” McCully said. “We sold into almost 50 different countries last year as more and more consumers crave high quality, highly marbled, grain-fed U.S. beef and they are looking at Certified Angus Beef to deliver that product.”
The largest growth for Certified Angus Beef in 2016 was realized in Japan, where 31 million pounds of beef equated to a 153% increase year-over-year. That country was the No. 2 importer of Certified Angus Beef last year. Of course Japan is no stranger to beef, specifically high quality Wagyu and Kobe varieties, so positioning Certified Angus Beef in that part of the world is different than here in the U.S.
“Here, Certified Angus Beef is positioned as the premium beef but Japan has beef that sells for hundreds of dollars a pound,” McCully said. “So there we are positioned as the premium of the imported beef and we have to understand that they don’t enjoy a steak the same way that we do. They prefer more thinly sliced cuts and smaller portions, so it is a different market, but they do understand quality and that’s why we are having a lot of success in that region.”
Also in the top three as far as importers of Certified Angus Beef are Canada and Mexico. There has been a lot of discussion lately about trade with our northern and southern border neighbors and the beef industry is keeping a close watch.
“If we can sell some cuts in other parts of the world that we can’t sell domestically then we can drive more value back to the total carcass,” McCully said. “We see that there is a need for healthy, sound trade agreements that allow beef to move where the market dictates and we think that is a good recipe for growing beef demand for U.S. cattlemen.”