DUBUQUE, Iowa — Tyson Foods focuses on purchasing efficient-yielding cattle, but more importantly, quality cattle.
“One of the things we say at Tyson is taste the difference,” said Bob Scherer, associate director of procurement for Tyson Foods.
“There is a difference and getting to that difference, you have to have a network of people,” Scherer said during a presentation at the Reds Rolling on the River National Red Angus Convention.
“When buying cattle, you better have good experience,” Scherer stressed. “The combined years of buying cattle are 1,320 for our employees, and the average years with the company are 22.”
Tyson follows the supplier creed.
“We’re as transparent as we can be, and we want people to come to our plants and see what we’re doing,” Scherer said.
“One thing I really enjoy is getting face to face with cow/calf ranchers, but more importantly bringing customers to them because the more you can educate, the cooler the story is,” he said.
Last year, Scherer met with a group of buyers from New York City.
“They were from a pretty high-end burger joint, and we took them through the packing house, spent time at the feed yard looking at natural cattle and that night we loaded up the trucks and went up to the Sandhills,” he said. “The pairs were coming to the trucks, and they were shocked that the animals would come right to them sitting in the back of a pickup.”
Two weeks later, Scherer said, “we got a 1 million pound contract” from these buyers.
“That’s the kind of stories we have to keep telling,” he said.
“To me, Red Angus cattle are a great value,” he said. “Red Angus cattle deliver quality, cutability and a more consistent product.”
Setting The Standard
The Beef Quality Assurance program, Scherer said, makes everybody in the business — including packers, cow/calf producers, finish feeders and truckers — better.
“A lot of this is getting mandated to the packer by the customers, and the last thing you want to do is lose a customer,” he said.
“We have big players that want to go to Progressive Beef, which is BQA on steroids,” he said. “It’s a lot of paperwork to record things from scrubbing water tanks to labeling grease tubs in the machine shop, but you have to have accountability.”
The Progressive Beef program has three core pillars — cattle care, food safety and sustainability.
“If we want this industry to continue, we’ve got to do the right things, the right way, each and every time,” Scherer said. “Almost half of the cattle we harvest yearly are enrolled in this program, and they will say it made them a better finisher/feeder in efficiencies.”
Tyson Foods, Scherer said, knows the importance of staying involved it all of their communities.
“Without our hourly team members, we’re nothing,” he said. “We’re talking 3,500 employees in a packing house and when we’re short 100 people, that’s tough because we have to drop chain speeds to make up for people not being there.”
The company focuses on satisfying its customers’ needs.
“They are the driver of our business, and when they demand a product to certain spec, we will make it for them,” Scherer said.
The More You Know
He encourages cattlemen to get the certification for producing non-hormone treated cattle.
“If you don’t get NHTC certification, you have a commodity animal and you’re at the mercy of the market,” he said. “If cattle are trading at $165, you get nothing else, but if you have NHTC then you get $165 and the premium on top of that.”
In addition to the NHTC program, Scherer said, Tyson Foods also markets products through its Open Prairie Natural Meats program.
“We take red and black Angus cattle for this program, and we’re 100% third-party verified,” he said.
“We want EID tags in their ears because it’s a pretty cheap insurance policy for when cattle disease happens, and I want the cow/calf guy to get all his information back,” he said.
“I’m a firm believer of giving data back and we are set up in all our plants to run the cattle through the reader and within 30 seconds I have verification on 100% of the cattle.”
Retailers, food service and institutions are looking for higher quality cattle, Scherer said.
“We run from 9% to 10% Prime in all our plants, and during the winter months, it’s as high as 18% Prime,” he said. “That’s what the consumer wants today.”
For more information about the Red Angus Association of America, go to: www.redangus.org.