Domestic

CAAB retirement brings down curtain on productive half-century meat career

Jon Condon, 18/09/2014

NOT a lot of people have exerted as much influence over the shape and direction of modern Australian red meat retailing, marketing, brand development and supply chain management as Phil Morley.

Phil Morley 2The personable 63-year-old officially retires as chief executive of Certified Australian Angus Beef the end of this month, bringing to a close an illustrious 47-year career spanning the length and breadth of the red meat supply chain.

Phil will finish up after a CAAB board-meeting on September 29, following the recent appointment of Kate Brabin to take up his role as the program’s new CEO.

He took up his post at CAAB in March, 2008, as the final chapter in his career, building on the strong foundation that was already in place since CAAB’s launch. Remarkably, CAAB has had just two CEOs over its 19-year history, firstly led by Michael Pointer since the program’s inception in 1996, and followed by Phil Morley for the most recent six years.

What some may forget is the fact that prior to engaging with CAAB, Phil had already had a long and productive career across the domestic supermarket retail space.

His start in the meat industry came as a 16-year old apprentice butcher, and his career has followed a diverse and influential trajectory over the next half-century.

 

‘Forward thinking’

If there is a word or phrase that describes Phil’s approach to retail and marketing/brand identity, it has to be ‘forward thinking.’

Many of the elements of modern-day large-scale supermarket beef supply chains have his fingerprints on them.

Phil Morley and lotfeeder Dugald Cameron at the launch of the TenderChoice brand trial in 1993

Phil Morley and lotfeeder Dugald Cameron at the launch of the TenderChoice brand trial in 1993

As a senior Woolworths executive during the 1990-06 era, Phil was given free-rein by the then Woolworths chief, Reg Clairs, to ‘think outside the square’ about how best to fill modern domestic supermarket retail needs.

Among the many elements he initiated were dedicated supply based on long-term forward price contracts, greater reliance on feedlot-finishing to produce more consistent year-round product, and greatly enhanced livestock and carcase performance feedback. He also started to push supermarket carcase weights out to heavier specs, which were not only more efficient to produce, but started to align better with export programs.

In the early 1990s, Phil worked collaboratively with lotfeeders and AMLC to launch a trial called ‘TenderChoice’, where for the first time ever there was a branded product, using a tight spec, put before supermarket customers. The product came out of Dugald Cameron’s Aronui feedlot near Dalby. Prior to that, the word ‘Woolworths’ was seen as the only beef brand necessary.

Phil Morley pictured during the launch of the MSA steering committee with from left, ALFA president Dugald Cameron, committee chair David Crombie and AMLC's John Webster.

Phil Morley pictured during the launch of the MSA steering committee with from left, ALFA president Dugald Cameron, committee chair David Crombie and AMLC’s John Webster.

The result proved that domestic consumers did, in fact, see value in a clearly identified product produced to a set of quality specs designed to deliver greater consistency.

Phil was also a key player in the formation of Meat Standards Australia, sitting on the MSA steering committee chaired during the mid-1990s by David Crombie.

The seismic shift in thinking about the domestic beef market, as outlined above, led to this writer presenting Phil with the inaugural Rural Press Beef Industry Achiever of the Year award in 1997, in recognition of his pioneering work in developing more sophisticated supermarket beef supply chains.

 

Pioneering work in ‘Natural’ segment

Without question, Phil Morley was also probably three or four years ahead of the pack when he started exploring opportunities within the CAAB business for a ‘natural’, ‘grassfed’ premium beef product, later to be launched as Angus Pure in 2009.

“I had a battle with the CAAB board in getting them to recognise the merit in moving away from the tried-and-true CAAB grainfed formula,” Phil recalled.

“Terms like ‘natural’ and ‘pasturefed’ were in their infancy back then, and consumers were only just beginning to discover the merits and brand attributes of beef from this production background,” he said.

“Certainly grassfed beef was selling in Australia prior to that time, but it never had any real quality criteria behind it. When we added words like ‘Angus’, ‘MSA-graded’, ‘no HGP/antibiotic’ and ‘grassfed’, it created something different, which the market was just beginning to look for.”

At that stage, the main CAAB program (grainfed) was going absolutely gangbusters, with 700,000 to 800,000kg a month going into Japan and Korea, plus big uptake in the domestic market.

“Why do you want to stuff around with a pasturefed product? the CAAB board asked me. At that point it was all about high-quality grainfed, as it is in the equivalent US Certified Angus Beef program,” Phil said.

Some of his over-the-horizon thinking in this space came from earlier involvement in the establishment of the Lilydale free-range poultry range in Australian retailing during his days with Woolworths, Coles and Dairyfarm. He could see the momentum starting to emerge in this space.

“Full Certified Organic was also building support, but god bless it, it was twice the price and often not as good on the tooth,” he said.

“No-one could say Organic was the most fabulous product you could buy. But I thought there was plenty of opportunity for a product somewhere in the middle – natural, pasturefed, no HGP or antibiotic. It was an easy product to build a brand story around, and carried many of the attractions of Organic, without the productivity compromise, or extreme price point.”

Phil managed to convince the CAAB board to give it a shot, and the decision was made to roll the Angus Pure program out, with a primary focus on the retail butchery sector.

CAAB took the project concept to processor, T&R Pastoral (now Thomas Foods International) at Murray Bridge, and received immediate support.

“T&R already held a license to produce the CAAB grainfed product, but when I pitched to them about Angus Pure, they (particularly livestock manager Petar Bond) could see the potential in a premium grassfed brand,” Phil said.

So new was the notion of the term ‘natural’ that when approached by CAAB for definitions that might apply for export into the US, the best standard the USDA could come up with was ‘minimally-processed’, with no reference to feed regime, or other attributes.

“The USDA did not really have a standard at that time, so we created our own, which has stood the test of time,” Phil said.

In the five years since its launch, CAAB’s Angus Pure program has now grown to 1300 head per week, out of Murray Bridge and Casino, in the north.

Last year, CAAB and Angus Pure combined were responsible for around 107,000 cattle presented for the programs. About 75,000 of those were CAAB grainfed, with 35,000 for Angus Pure. The plan in place with TFI is to see the Angus Pure program grow to 2000 head per week.

Today, Phil sees virtually the entire future of the Australian beef industry as being in branding.

“If as an exporter or domestic beef supplier you don’t have a solid brand presence, you have nothing to build your attributes on. Just look at where JBS has come from over the past three years, in transitioning from commodity beef to a series of integrated brand programs.”

But brand identity, in the form of words like ‘Angus’ could also work in other directions.

“Go into a supermarket today and you’ll see beef pies, McCain’s pizzas and Campbell’s soups all carrying ‘Angus’ or ‘CAAB’ identity. That’s when you know branding is really working for you,” Phil said.

Given his longstanding retail experience, he said he could not have foreseen the day when Woolworths would proudly stock a grassfed branded beef offer in stores, as a premium item.

“I applaud them for it. In fact I’m absolutely delighted to see that the branded beef concept in Australia continues to go from strength to strength, in raw form in specialty butcher shops, as well as on-shelf or in chilled cabinets in supermarkets.

“That extends from heat and serve pre-cooked meals, to pies, soups, lasagne, pizzas and countless other items carrying beef brand identity. If you can get that brand connection, you’re really into mainstream. If you just focus on the chilled meat operation, you’ll never grow, certainly as much as extending the brand in different directions.”

 

Breed content standard

While Angus Pure program is one of the obvious legacies Phil has left at CAAB, there are a number of others.

The program’s strong stand on breed content is a good example. Other ‘Angus’ derived brand programs overseas notoriously have little credibility on delivering assurances over breed content, often doing no breed content testing whatsoever.

In contrast, CAAB has set a high benchmark on content, under a breed raising claim, and DNA verification.

“The heartache we went through over integrity in breed content claims, even appearing before a Senate committee examining truth in labelling in food products, has stood CAAB and Australia in good stead,” Phil said.

“I would say today that for all the major Australian players making an Angus brand claim, the product is in fact Angus – not just ‘Angus influenced’ – and that gives me an enormous amount of satisfaction,” he said.

Also during Phil’s engagement, CAAB linked with the McDonald’s burger chain to deliver the Angus ‘premium’ message to an entirely new segment of the food service industry.

It turned out to be an absolute coup, as McDonald’s flexed its considerable marketing muscle, spending $10 million on marketing burgers including the word, ‘Angus’ across Australia.

“The clear implication to consumers Australia wide was, ‘Buy Angus and you’re buying a premium product’,” Phil said.

Since it’s launch, more than 25 million kilograms of certified Angus beef trim has been directed into the McDonald’s burger program, and the company rates its McAngus program as one of its best-ever product introductions.

The word, ‘Angus’ has since taken on a brand cache all of its own, rivalled only, perhaps, by the word, ‘Wagyu.’

“When I joined CAAB back in 2008, JBS didn’t have an Angus-derived brand. Teys did not have an Angus brand. Nor did Nippon, Bindaree and others,” Phil said.

“They all now have a brand portfolio that includes at least one premium brand with clear ‘Angus’ identity. We’ve almost been a victim of our own success, but CAAB has been a wonderful vehicle for the Angus cattle producers of Australia, because it has now driven all those other big players to launch and promote an Angus brand.”

But at what point does the word, Angus, start to lose cache, simply because there are so many other Angus-identified brands in the market?

“The word Angus won’t lose its gloss. But in the case of CAAB, the direction we’re now taking in marketing is in trying to simplify what it is, and what it represents. Essentially, there’s many Angus-derived brands, but only one CAAB, and the catch-cry now being used is “The Angus brand owned by Aussie Angus growers.”

“We have to play on that sense of producer ownership a little,” Phil said.

 

What lies ahead?

Rather than simply riding off into the sunset, Phil Morley said he did not like to use the word, ‘retirement’ to describe his immediate plans for the future.

“If somebody asked me to work full time again, I’d knock it back. But I’d like to stay engaged – perhaps sitting on an industry or private-sector board or two, or doing some project work on supply chain development, branding or brand development,” he said.

Regardless of what lies ahead, he can look back at his 47 years in the industry as one of those rare people who truly ‘made a difference.’

On behalf of the industry, Beef Central salutes you, Phil.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Mayne family Springsure Central Queensland, 21/09/2014

    Those with your ability still have a lot more the meat industry could benefit from. G.C. M.

  2. Mayne family Springsure Central Queensland, 21/09/2014

    Our family will always appreciate the dedication you put into getting the best product for Woolworths supermarkets,thank you from the Wealwandangie and Inderi families who benefited by the standard you set.

  3. Venessa Barnes, 18/09/2014

    What wonderful reflection on a career with so many highlights. Phil Morley you truely are one of the pioneers who not only shaped the industry but also gave up and comers the inspiration to always “think outside” the square. You have been a great influence and voice of reason to myself and many others, I wish you well BUT more than anything I thank you… All the very best for your next chapter. Kate you are the right person to continue the legacy Phil so graciously has set in place. Best wishes to you both – Venessa Barnes

  4. michael dempsey, 18/09/2014

    Congratulations on your successful career and best wishes for your retirement. Best of luck.

  5. Jake Phillips, 18/09/2014

    Phil has been a mentor of mine over the past few years after my involvment in the Angus Youth programs. Phil has always given me great professional advice and has been influential in me succeeding in my current role. Good luck Phil, its a great legacy you have given the industry. Well Written Jon.








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