By Kindra Gordon

The U.S. beef industry is facing greater expectations from consumers for the future, but if we can meet and exceed those expectations there are also bigger opportunities to be gained. That was the message shared by Bill Cordingley, managing director of wholesale banking for Rabobank North America. Cordingley was the keynote speaker during the Cattlemen’s College session that kicked off on Jan. 30, 2019 at the Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show in New Orleans.

U.S. cattle producers should expect “a more global and uncertain environment” in the demand for beef, Cordingley told the audience. He acknowledged that cattle producers are doing things very well with regard to quality, consistency and environmental impact, and “consumers already love your product,” he said. 

But he cautioned, “Sustained success can lead to complacency…The challenge is, will this be enough in the future, and what role will you play?”

Cordingley pointed to four factors driving the changing marketplace, including technology, the changing consumer, export market opportunities and the importance of social capital.

Regarding technology, Cordingley noted it cannot be underestimated. He pointed out that technology has changed everything and has accelerated the pace of change as it influences the future of the cattle industry.

Cordingley stated, “Those active on social media are creating a new truth for the consumer. Consumers are looking for authenticity.”

That is driving the second large change – the changing consumer. Cordingley reported, “Eating food is now more complex than ever.” He shared that consumers feel conflicted in their food choices and often seek to eat for good, for themselves, for their communities and for the environment.

A third driver shaping the future for the beef industry is exports. Cordingley shared that 300 million consumers in China are now classified as wealthy. And, many of these export markets with rising middle and upper class consumers have yet to be fully developed. 

“The good news for US,” he says is that there are few significant competitors to US beef – especially high quality corn fed beef. Cordingley reports exports add about $300 value per head, and he anticipates exports that are currently at about 12% of marketshare could grow to 15-20% of the globabl market. He says, “The reality is we need it.”

The final driver of change that Cordingley says the beef industry must recognize is social capital, which he defines as the “license to do business.”

He continues, “It comes down to trust. Consumers must feel the beef industry is on board with growing a better world together through continuous improvement.” To do so, Cordingley adds that building trust and being authentic are essential. He advises, “Favor transparency and openness in our dealings with the community. Tell what we do and how we do it.” He concludes, “The beef industry must become better at telling their story. We need an army of advocates in the debate.”