Perceptions, science and business

News
Jun 22, 2012
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The ancient Greeks used to debate what people know and HOW they know it. Deeply held convictions have wrestled with sciencebased knowledge ever since.

And eventually, economics entered in, usually linked to science, if only the qualitative data on what people do with their perceptions.

You may know something because it is stated by a source you consider reliable, even infallible. You could know it because you’re confident of your interpretation of the data about it. Or you might feel the truth of something “in your soul,” as if your own perceptions are infallible; then you look for bits of science to support your beliefs.

That range is found everywhere from the ranch to the food consumer. Fans of certain “food philosophy” writers elevate authors to authorities because persuasive prose rings true for them. With enough disposable income, they may even pay more for food that fits their gastronomical belief system.

Consumers write the checks that pay our way in the beef industry, but you have to wonder how they know how beef cattle should be raised.

Perceptions can be spot-on, but they can also be arbitrary and out of touch. Consumers several generations removed from the farm may think the scale required to make a living in agriculture is just wrong. Hundreds of cattle in a herd rather than six or eight? Trying to make a profit? That can’t be good.

Some beef producers choose to cater to the various niche markets these ideas spawn, as an example of business meeting perception-based opportunity.

There’s often less risk in catering to science-based opportunities. Stories about beef and producers are increas ingly

important in marketing. But just telling banquet guests a story about the beef won’t improve its flavor unless that beef was selected based on meat science to please consumers.

Many consumers “know” all fat is bad, even though science has discovered there is good fat (beef marbling) and bad fat (generally external and trimmed off the beef). On the producer side, some focus on genetics that deliver the good fat, but others see it as a fad or the cattle feeder’s concern.

Because of one brand’s success, some consumers form a positive impression of all beef linked to a breed. Yet science says that ability to please consumers has more to do with the specifications than the breed, or rather that breed can provide all the attributes and tools required to hit those specs.

Science may trump perception, but business must consider both, along with practicality in labor costs. Investing too much in a fad can be a mistake if perceptions shift, but always going with science can take you down a different road to ruin.

Your well-informed perceptions must guide your decisions. If science can add 30 pounds of beef at the expense of consumer satisfaction, it is worth it? The industry may never know what it lost.

Is it worth it to follow the recipe for crossbreeding to capture the scientifically proven (infallible?) 4 percent advantage in commodity beef production? Or can you make up for it with the simplicity, greater predictability and genetic focus found in one breed?

Ultimately, in the long run, the consumer will decide. Next time in Black Ink, Miranda Reiman will challenge you to dream big. —

Steve Suther

(“Black ink” is a cattle management column written by Steve Suther and Miranda Reiman of Certified Angus Beef. The column is not designed for strictly Angus producers, and does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of

WLJ

or its editorial staff.)

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