A MAJOR organisational restructure and brand refresh launched four years ago has earned breed society Droughtmaster Australia top honours as the nation’s best exponent of excellence in business transformation.
The cattle breed society will use the Australian Business Award announced on August 31 as endorsement for the strategy it first implemented in 2019 to re-energise beef-producer membership and re-invigorate the Droughtmaster brand.
Previous winners of the highly regarded award, bestowed annually and benchmarked globally, have included Westpac, Swinburne University, MTAQ, National Blood Authority and Sydney Water.
However, never has the accolade gone to a cattle breed society.
“It is an enormous achievement for our members and all our partners and stakeholders who have collaborated to re-model our organisation and prepare our business for the future,” Droughtmaster Australia CEO Simon Gleeson said.
“Winning this tells our members and anyone with an eye to breeding or running Droughtmaster cattle in the years ahead, or doing business with our organisation, that we are professional and future focussed.”
Mr Gleeson said the four-year strategy to revitalise the business had four clear goals: grow membership and registered cattle numbers and promote the Droughtmaster breed and brand across the country from paddock to plate.
He said all four metrics had declined from 2013, when the impact of drought had caused financial and emotional stress across the industry.
“Our organisation was not immune from this reality, and it was clear that if we wanted the outcome to be different then we had to approach our outlook, culture and operation differently as well,” Mr Gleeson said.
“Change for any organisation is never easy, but it is absolutely necessary to stay relevant and to build resilience for any future challenges.”
How Droughtmaster was transformed
Change was driven from the top, with the composition of the organisation’s board refreshed and equipped with governance training to ensure a solid foundation for change management was established, such as strategic planning, reporting, and communicating objectives and outcomes.
Office roles were consolidated and clarified to align with the organisation’s new goals.
But the boldest move was reserved for the marketing of the Droughtmaster brand, and its repositioning in a highly competitive market composed of several cattle breeds vying for the attention of producers, who are forever looking to maximise their returns in variable seasonal conditions and volatile markets.
Bred to withstand Queensland’s harsh conditions, adverse weather and abundant pests, Droughtmaster, as the name would suggest, was never conceived to be a consumer-interfacing brand when it was developed by Queensland cattlemen in the 1930s and registered as a breed in 1962.
The perception was that if the cattle were tough, so too was the beef. This is far from the truth.
Mr Gleeson said the marketing of the brand up until the makeover of the last four years, reflected the breed’s functionality over its flavour and natural consumer appeal.
“We reviewed the brand’s vivid red colour, and replaced it with softer, earthier tones to signal to the market that Droughtmaster was a more approachable beef product in its own right,” Mr Gleeson said.
“Prior to the rebrand, the word Droughtmaster and the original harsh red colour palette carried connotations of heat, dryness, and toughness.
“The perception was that if the cattle were tough, so too was the beef.
“This is far from the truth. Rebranding opened many opportunities for the organisation and raised awareness of the quality of Droughtmaster beef.”
New brand, new outlook
A major launch of the new brand, declared as ‘Australia’s Natural Wonder’, was staged in Brisbane in late 2020 – a time of COVID lockdowns, social distancing, and strain for the hospitality industry.
Held during a window of relaxed public health restrictions, the event attracted chefs, restaurateurs, and food media, with all encouraged to promote Droughtmaster as a quality beef brand capable of attracting customers and shifting the dial on increased sales.
While the concept elevated Droughtmaster’s visibility in the retail and restaurant channels to unprecedented levels, the initiative was still conceived and delivered with members’ interests at its core, Mr Gleeson said.
“Cattle producers who breed Droughtmaster cattle, particularly stud cattle, invest not only in the breed but also in the brand,” he said.
“Therefore, members are dependent on the organisation’s ability to maintain high standards and industry confidence.
“Other rural and regional businesses also depend indirectly on the organisation’s continuing strength and success.”
We’ve gone from a culture of ‘I think’ to a culture of ‘I know’. No more doing things by gut instinct
Since rolling out the new strategy, described by Mr Gleeson as “unfamiliar territory for Droughtmaster Australia”, new member signings have increased more than threefold in the last three years.
Registered breeder numbers have also returned to heights not seen in more than 12 years.
And heftier investment in events, marketing and research has been injected into programs that provide data for producers to objectively measure herd performance and improve with confidence.
“We’ve gone from a culture of ‘I think’ to a culture of ‘I know’. No more doing things by gut instinct – it’s all by the numbers so we can verify our credentials and communicate these clearly and impartially to the market,” Mr Gleeson said.
Adopting a data-driven mindset will be crucial to the next phase of Droughtmaster Australia’s restructure, which will roll through from this year until 2025, five years out from when the Australian cattle industry has committed, with some debate, to a carbon neutral status by 2030.
Mr Gleeson said data demonstrating the high performance of Droughtmaster cattle on grass, as well as grain, could provide something of a natural gravitational pull towards the breed when questions of sustainability and a lower carbon footprint become the key metrics during the decade for environmental-conscious consumers and investors applying an ESG lens to their committed funds.
His thinking echoes the projections of Gympie meat processor Terry Nolan, who told media at the Brisbane event in 2020 that the new imperatives driving consumers’ purchasing decisions, such as environmental stewardship and ethical treatment of animals, would suit the Droughtmaster breed well.
“We’ve been buying Droughtmaster cattle for years and putting them in our Wide Bay feedlot along with all the other breeds we buy in, and they perform just as well as a high-quality product at the other end,” Mr Nolan said.
“But they also have great adaptability to the Queensland climate. They do well on country that doesn’t get high rainfall, they use pasture and water efficiently, they don’t need to be sprayed with lots of chemicals to protect them from pests and they don’t need a lot of grain feeding.”
Mr Gleeson said consumer demands were changing rapidly, and the thinking behind their now award-winning strategic plan demonstrated the wisdom of preparing their breed society for a new era.
“Supply chains want greater yield and there is an unmistakable push for improved animal welfare and for sustainable and natural protein,” he said.
“The cattle industry is the lifeblood of Australia, but like many primary sectors, it is facing major questions around sustainability, versatility and long-term production, and Droughtmaster as a breed can answer them all because the breed was developed for Australian conditions.”
Droughtmaster Australia president and northern NSW producer, Tood Heyman, said while the strategic plan was aimed at transforming and evolving the business to remain relevant in the protein industry, the future for the Droughtmaster breed was full of opportunity.
High on the list of benefits was the breed’s suitability for the live export trade and to grade MSA in domestic processing facilities, offering producers across a wide geographic spread options for marketing their cattle.
“The founders of the breed provided us with a product that is extremely flexible – an iconic all-rounder, perfectly placed for the future,” Mr Heyman said.
“In fact, it’s almost uncanny how well placed our breed is. It speaks volumes to the forethought of the mothers and fathers of the Droughtmaster breed that the characteristics they built into our breed are not only relevant today, but in some respects, ahead of the game.”