JBS Australia’s adventurous new Great Southern on-farm quality assurance program has hit the ground running, with more than 650 beef and sheepmeat producers already eligible to supply under the third-party audited supply chain.
Launched last week in Melbourne, the Great Southern brand program goes a long way to ticking all the consumer boxes in terms of key considerations including animal welfare, food safety and integrity, traceability, product eating performance and the growing interest in grassfed.
The third-party audited program is designed to showcase the high-end eating qualities and superior genetic of southern Australia’s grass-fed lamb and beef production systems. It includes specifies animal welfare, animal production and transport standards, with non-HGP and non-antibiotic components, as well as an occupational health and safety aspect, and MSA grading for quality and consistency attributes.
“Last week’s Great Southern launch was the culmination of a hell of a lot of work that has gone into the program’s development over the past three years,” JBS Southern Australia chief operating officer Sam McConnell told Beef Central.
“We saw that there was a huge gap, worldwide, for a quality grassfed, farm-assured product, both beef and lamb, and this program is the culmination of that,” he said.
“The Great Southern program is the first multi-species, third-party audited farm assurance program in Australia, and is something we are very proud of. It’s been able to effectively bring the producer and end-user closer together.”
While it is still early days, JBS is aiming to get 50 percent of all its southern division beef and lamb throughput into the program within its first six months of operation. Eligible product is being processed at all four of JBS Southern’s Victorian and Tasmanian plants – Cobram, Bordertown (smalls), Longford and Brooklyn.
“With the inquiry we’re seeing for the product, we’re going to need that expansion to happen,” Mr McConnell said.
The company three years ago hired ex MLA-staffer Mark Inglis to drive the implementation and adoption of the program across southern beef and sheep producing sectors.
The education phase in getting producers across Victoria, Tasmania, eastern South Australia and southern NSW to understand the program and the significance of what it stands for, was key to the program’s continued expansion, Mr McConnell said.
The JBS Southern livestock team had done, and would continue to do a lot of ‘roadshows’ with producers using a unique mobile demonstration boning room. The schedule over the past three or four weeks, alone, had included travelling from Gippsland to northern Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia.
Already JBS has more than 650 beef and sheep producers signed-up and eligible to supply under Great Southern, just one of the unique features of which is that the company itself pays for the audit process on each property.
Mr McConnell said the fact the program was ISO 65 third-party audited added a greater level of integrity to its on-farm assurance components.
Initial program development started in 2010 for the purpose of supplying one key international JBS customer, but was now being rolled-out more broadly to a wider range of export and domestic customers looking for product with greater depth of integrity and production assurance.
“Initially, the program was applied in lamb, but we saw that there was a major gap, worldwide, for a quality grassfed, farm-assured product, both beef and lamb,” Mr McConnell said.
He said while there was no doubt that livestock premiums would be attached, in order for that to happen the company needed to make sure that it could get a premium in the marketplace at the other end as well.
“For a start, the emphasis is on getting the program up and going, and it will be developed in a commercial sense from there. We want to be working with those livestock producers who want to ‘go to the next level’ in the industry, rewarding those producers who have good genetics, good animal welfare, and who want to be a part of this initiative.”
“We’re out there engaging with the producers to build those understandings and supply relationships around the program. For far too long there has been a disconnect between the producer and the packer. Better that we unite, and share in the feast,” he said.
“Between our livestock and sales teams, there has already been an awful lot of work invested in the project. The key to making it a success is that we already have two very large international customers who have taken the program on, and will use its key attributes to market their product through to increasingly aware consumers at retail and food service level.”
“But at this point it’s also important that we don’t over-promise on the sell-side, if we are unable to deliver on the buy-side, so we have to keep supply and demand in balance, during the early stages at least.”
Last week’s launch has already sparked wide interest from new export and domestic customers. One large international beef customer had already doubled its order after the initial reaction from customers. The parallel lamb program has registered a similar impact.
So where will the Great Southern product end up?
In international markets, it will go to specific ‘very large’ customers in different countries – in some cases under exclusivity arrangements. Some countries may have two or more customers, depending on whether they come from the retail or food service segment.
“The key is that each customer has to have a passion for marketing this type of farm-assured product, carrying deep integrity,” Mr McConnell said.
“There’s a lot of hard work invested here, and if we’re going to ask producers to tick all these boxes in animal welfare, whole of life traceability, grassfed, food safety and MSA we have to ensure the customers at the other end respect the product and do all they can to protect its integrity – and they need to be able to pay for it,” he said.
The company was looking at other attributes for possible introduction that would lift the product standards even higher.
“It’s a very exciting program, and we believe it’s the way to go, moving forward,” Mr McConnell said.
When broken down into its component parts, Great Southern covers the three main areas of JBS operations – namely ‘buy’, ‘make’, and ‘sell’.
“On the ‘buy’ side, the number one consideration is animal welfare,” Mr McConnell said.
“It has to be on the radar, and there is more and more consumer and stakeholder focus on this as a pre-requisite. As a company we are focussing much more heavily on it.”
On the ‘make’ side (plant fabrication and operations), the key attributes included food safety and product quality through MSA, and ‘people safety’ through an OH&S component. On the ‘sell’ side, food safety was everything.
“If we don’t work harder at bringing these three areas together, we’re not going to be able to move into the future, delivering safe, humanely-treated, product to our customers, and be able to demonstrate where it has come from,” Mr McConnell said.
It remains to be seen whether some of JBS existing southern grassfed brand programs, including Southern Supreme and Tasmanian Premium are retained as separate entities, or whether they are ‘rolled into’ the Great Southern program.
Mr McConnell said it took some time for the 200+ industry stakeholders attending last Wednesday’s Great Southern launch in Melbourne – from across the retail, food service, wholesale and production sectors – to absorb the full extent of the Great Southern program, and what it aims to achieve.
“The launch, and the way it was presented, was a bit of an eye opener for everyone involved,” he said.
- Click here to access the Great Southern website, including supplier and product information.