AS THE commercial branded beef movement in Australia continues to mature, program managers are adding additional attributes beyond meat quality, breed and origin to better meet modern consumer expectations.
After 144 years tagged as a ‘cattle producer,’ the North Australian Pastoral Co is moving down a new path this week, adding carbon neutrality to its first branded beef program launched today.
‘Five Founders’ is NAPCo’s first attempt at retaining ownership and identity of its product further through the supply chain, launching the brand at a function in Brisbane this afternoon.
The name refers to the five original shareholders in the pastoral business, way back in 1877.
Click this link to read Beef Central’s earlier pre-launch awareness article about Five Founders, published back in June.
The brand can claim a high level of provenance, being generated exclusively from NAPCo’s herd of around 200,000 cattle across properties in Queensland and the Northern Territory. Only cattle bred and grown by on NAPCo’s northern Australian cattle operations and fed at the company’s modern Wainui feedlot near Bowenville on Queensland’s Darling Downs will enter the Five Founders program. Feeders, both steers and heifers, no-HGP, will be fed for 100-day programs, using wheat/barley based rations.
First trial kills for the Five Founders program took place at the Northern Cooperative Meat Co plant at Casino at the start of the year, and the program will gradually ramp-up in volume, now that it has reached full commercial release. Currently 280 head a month are being processed as a ‘starting point,’ but numbers will grow in alignment with the establishment of new customers, both within Australia and overseas.
Unlike some other large pastoral companies that have established their own branded beef programs, NAPCo will not market the beef itself, but instead has established a marketing partnership through Endeavour Meats, a newly established meat trading and wholesaling business led by former Sanger meat trade Tim Sullivan. Click here to view Beef Central’s earlier article profiling the establishment of Endeavour Meats.
Some of the chilled primals from the program are being portion-cut, further-processed and value-added through Brisbane’s Prime Cuts facility, including some VSP-packed retail ready items for domestic retail customers in Brisbane, Sydney and Perth.
The main target market for the new Five Founders brand is the upper end of retail, and the better end of the restaurant, hotel and food service trade. Initial sales have been made into domestic and export markets including China and Singapore before a staged and measured expansion to other markets.
Verifying carbon neutral claims
NAPCo’s brand claims around carbon-neutral beef have been officially accredited after meeting the Australian Federal Government’s strict criteria. The company undertook a 12-month accreditation process as part of its journey to provide consumers with a carbon-neutral product claim.
Chief executive Phil Cummins said the company’s decision to pursue carbon neutrality in its first foray into branded beef was designed to meet the desires of modern consumers.
“We studied the market and quickly realised that consumers increasingly want produce that not only delivers a high quality eating experience, but respects their affinity for environmental and animal care,” he said.
“Consumers are more environmentally conscious than ever and this is especially the case among younger generations such as Millennials, who want confidence they are buying sustainable products. NAPCo has always prioritised its animal welfare and environmental practices and embracing carbon neutrality has been a natural progression of this.”
“NAPCo’s care for animals is also demonstrated in our ‘whole-of-life’ advantage as we breed and raise our own cattle, ensuring good health and full traceability within our supply chain.”
The company engaged an independent national carbon and energy management consultancy firm to help guide its bid to produce Australia’s first carbon-neutral beef. Pangolin and Integrity Ag Consultants were engaged to calculate the carbon footprint through a hybrid lifecycle assessment (LCA) of the NAPCo herd, which was then combined with estimation of energy-related emissions from the properties and feedlot.
“A range of improvements on our properties and in our herds has subsequently allowed us to reduce our footprint, including genetic improvements that allow our cattle to breed and be processed at a younger age and thus emit less methane,” Mr Cummins said.
“Having made these efforts to reduce our overall footprint, we then purchased carbon credits approved by the Federal Government to offset the remainder.”
He said NAPCo was also committed to conservation activities such as securing land for nature refuge programs and performing carbon sequestration trials. The company was looking to trial feed additives that would potentially reduce the amount of methane emitted directly from its cattle.
“This is the beginning of our carbon journey, not the end, and we will be working to further reduce our footprint,” Mr Cummins said.
“NAPCo has prioritised animal welfare and environmental practices for almost 150 years and see it as our duty to find innovative ways to tackle this global challenge,” he told today’s brand launch.
NAPCo’s general manager for corporate and commercial affairs, Stephen Moore, told Beef Central that the company “understood the challenges around building a new commercial beef brand, but we have high hopes for the product, based on its brand story, provenance and eating quality characteristics.”
“We’re aware that brand development requires a lot of hard work, but NAPCo is in this for the journey,” he said.
In addition to the customer focus in areas like sustainability and carbon footprint, Mr Moore said the company’s shareholders were themselves asking what the company was doing in these areas.
‘So it’s pull through, as well as push-through,” he said. “There’s a lot of capital around the world looking for a home, and if agriculture wants to be a target, long term, we need to actively address issues and expectations around the environment and other issues.”
History as a ‘cattle producer’
Beef Central asked Mr Moore what had driven NAPCo’s motivation to move further down the value-chain. In an interview eight years ago, former managing director Nigel Alexander was asked whether NAPCo would consider venturing into branded beef programs, to which he responded that the company saw itself fundamentally as a ‘cattle producer’, preferring to ‘do that right’ and leave downstream activity to those with ‘expertise, business relationships and special skills’ in that area.
“Nothing has changed since then,” Mr More said. “We don’t want to lose any focus on the productions side of our business. It is still the fundamental driver of NAPCo’s fortunes, and that won’t change following the launch of Five Founders,” he said.
“But like anyone producing a food product in the modern age of consumer awareness, if you have a good story to tell, and there are opportunities to talk to customer directly, then we are going to try and do it.”
“It’s about trying to realise greater value for what we do, by engaging more with that end customer, and trying to respond to developments we see in the broader community around buying habits and product expectations, provenance and food production in general,” he said.
“Given the company’s history, we have a special opportunity to do that. We felt like we had a good story to tell.”
Strong customer response
Tim Sullivan from the Five Founders’ program’s wholesaler and exporter, Endeavour Meats, said the customer feedback from the Five Founders product since first trial runs of cattle started coming through the program earlier this year had been ‘amazing.’
“Not only has there been great interest in the carbon neutrality claim, but more importantly the product quality and consistency has been excellent. And there are very few Australian beef brands that can claim whole-of-life traceability and source verification on every animal, with all cattle fed and slaughtered for the brand bred by NAPCo itself,” Mr Sullivan said.
“The feedback on the product, both export and domestic, has been amazing, and we are really looking forward to ramping up production, post-launch,” he said.
“We’re only dipping our toe in the water at this stage, processing about 280 a month, but that will double by the end of the year, as customers in Korea and Japan come on line, following good early support in Singapore, Vietnam and China.”
Driven by the consistency of genetics and production systems within the NAPCo network, Mr Sullivan said the consistency of MSA index scores, and carcase and primal weights was ‘very impressive.’
“The composites have all come out of the same box, genetically, and it has been a real surprise packet for me – they are an extremely consistent line of carcases in terms of weight, fatness and MSA eating quality scores, by normal industry standards.”
Mr Sullivan said the science that MSA had been able to put behind the consistency meant that some of the new Five Founders branded product was already being sold under MSA Eating Quality Guaranteed ciphers, rather than dentition-based ciphers – especially through large domestic customers like Flinders & Co, which is handling an MSA Four-Star striploin exclusively into a Victorian chair of restaurants.
The new Five Founders brand development will not impact in any way on NAPCo’s existing grainfed supply chain operations, including one of the largest Woolworths supply contracts in Australia.
NAPCo is majority owned by the Queensland Investment Corporation (QIC) which bought an 80 percent stake in the company in 2016. The remainder is held by legacy family shareholder families, some of which can trace their connection back more than 144 years.