THE grassfed/natural beef sector reaches a new pinnacle in its evolution this week with the launch of a new, super-premium grassfed brand by JBS Australia.
The company’s new ‘Little Joe’ brand carries a minimum AusMeat marbling score of four, making it arguably the most exclusive grassfed/natural beef ever offered in Australia, if not the world.
While there are several other Australian grassfed beef brands which may at times include some product carrying a marbling score of 4, that is inevitably carried within a lower minimum marbling score requirement – often no more than score 2.
One of the secrets behind the viability of a super-premium grassfed brand like this is volume.
JBS Australia for some time has been monitoring marbling scores in beef generated by the company’s highly successful Great Southern grassfed farm-assured program. Great Southern is the largest grassfed brand program in Australia, processing around 4000 MSA yearling cattle each week through JBS Scone (NSW), JBS Brooklyn (VIC) and JBS Longford (TAS) processing plants.
The company has been aware for some time of a population of ‘curve-benders’ within the program which produce prodigious marbling, even off grass.
Even though that percentage of marbling score 4 or better carcases is quite low, the sheer volume of carcases now passing through the Great Southern brand means JBS can justify building a dedicated brand to accommodate it.
JBS Southern chief operating officer Sam McConnell said Little Joe was developed to meet the increasing demand by beef connoisseurs around the world for more premium options.
“Little Joe will redefine premium beef. It is the crème de la crème when it comes to Australian beef products, offering a level of marbling and eating quality that has never been seen before in grassfed beef – a truly unprecedented product,” he said.
Exclusivity is key part of brand story
JBS marketing manager Brad De Luca told Beef Central there was never any intention to make Little Joe a mass-market brand.
“Exclusivity and scarcity is a key part of the brand story,” he said. The brand will be targeted exclusively at the premium end of the food service sector – ‘hero’ restaurants across Australia and overseas countries including the United States, southeast Asia, Japan, China and the Halal markets in the Middle East and Malaysia.
Mr De Luca said a ‘buzz’ had already started within the company’s high end restaurant clients overseas, as JBS regional sales staff in the Middle East, the US and Asia had started a conversation over its looming development with key account customers.
Asked about the consistency and trends in supply of Great Southern product carrying a marbling score of 4, Mr De Luca said there were certain Great Southern-aligned beef herds that were producing more of these ‘outliers’ than others, but the percentage had grown over time, as producer program members had refined their management and genetics to lift compliance.
Great Southern is supplied almost exclusively by British breeds, heavily influenced by Angus, with a few cattle carrying a little Euro content, but nil Bos Indicus. The third-party audited certified grassfed program excludes grain feeding, HGPs, antibiotics and GMOs. Suppliers typically receive a hefty 30-40c/kg premium for cattle meeting program requirements, over conventional YG MSA cattle throughout the year.
The program is underpinned by MSA and is fully-traceable back to property of origin, on an individual animal basis.
JBS said it would continue to explore will continue to explore opportunities to assist in the expansion of not only the marbling score four carcases and the Little Joe brand, but the overall performance of the Great Southern program from an on-farm perspective. This will primarily be achieved through JBS Southern’s Mark Inglis who is in charge of extension and education of the Great Southern program suppliers. There has been a trend towards continuous improvement in all quality performance traits since the program was launched five years ago. Program suppliers receive comprehensive feedback on the carcase quality performance of their cattle, including marbling.
The higher-marbling carcases are tending to come out of heavier, slightly older animals, as logic would suggest. But how high do individual Great Southern grassfed carcases go? One sample viewed by Beef Central yesterday was a tomahawk steak taken off a grassfed steer producing an AusMeat marbling score of 8.
Portion size is another strong selling feature of the new Little Joe program. Unlike many Wagyu and grainfed programs where large primal size becomes a real problem when trying to portion-cut a steak to a 300 or 350 gram weight spec, while maintaining a reasonable cut thickness, the smaller primals produced out of yearling cattle in the Great Southern program deliver a much more attractive, thicker cut on items like T-bones, rib-eyes and sirloins. Refer to the T-bone sample on this page as an example.
Discrete, low-key trials recently as a blackboard menu item in Brisbane’s Stokehouse restaurant have delivered rave reviews from patrons, for the product’s rich, tender and juicy eating qualities, while delivering characteristic grassfed cleanness and sweetness.
What’s in a name?
The new brand name, ‘Little Joe’ is a quirky title with a hidden meaning.
The Australian branded beef industry is already heavily populated with brand names simply ending in ‘Black’ or ‘Gold’, or ’Angus’ for example, to denote a level of quality. Some argue these titles increasingly lack resonance with restaurateurs and consumers looking at a menu, because they all start sounding the same.
Think beer brands. At one end lie the major brewers’ products like Toohey’s Red and Toohey’s Gold. At the other end are craft beers, with much more quirky titles like ‘Little Creatures’ Pale Ale. Consumers want to know what the story behind the product is, look at the bottle and read it.
In casino gambling circles, the term, ‘Little Joe’ refers to players shooting dice in the game of Craps, who roll a ‘hard-four’ (a pair of twos). Just as ‘Snake Eyes’ refers to a pair of ones, a pair of twos is ‘Little Joe.’
Statistically, there is a less than three percent chance of throwing a Little Joe – a similar probability for grassfed beef under the Great Southern program to make an extreme marbling score of four.
Taking that symbolism into beef brand terms, the ‘two-twos’ also represents the product’s minimum marbling score of four.
The packaging on the product’s vacuum pack bags and carton lid also carries a subtle tribute to the product’s heritage, from the broader Great Southern brand program.
The bronze foil printed-finish on the eye-catching pure white carton lids are a first for the beef industry – possibly worldwide.
The Little Joe product range will extend beyond traditional grilling cuts like eye fillet/tenderloin, sirloin, and cube roll/rib eye, into slow-cook items like shortribs.
Beef Central asked the inevitable question about Little Joe’s price-point. While it is yet to be determined by JBS, it’s likely that the exclusivity and uniqueness of the product alone, will see it positioned well up the hierarchy of Australian branded beef products – perhaps equal to all but the very best longfed Wagyu beef.
“This is an exciting, unique product, and we think it will be perceived by top restaurateurs around the world as a viable alternative to premium Wagyu, but a lot more exclusive,” Mr De Luca said.
First Little Joe product will start to appear on the market later in November. JBS will shortly launch a dedicated website for the brand. A link will be added to this story once the site goes live, providing a list of current restaurants and hotels stocking the product. In the meantime, any sales inquiries should go to Rob Ryan and the JBS sales team at Brooklyn.
Beef brand managers across Australia are increasingly adopting brand segmentation like JBS has done with its Little Joe program – taking the very best of a product from a quality spectrum within an existing broader brand, and giving it its own identity.
A good earlier example is Rangers Valley’s Black Market grainfed offering, taking the best marbling performers from the company’s longfed Angus beef program and packing it separately.
- Beef Central recently wrote about grassfed branded beef expansion in the Coles supermarkets business.