Earls Restaurants Has Opened the Door to Canadian Beef… Now What?

My Twitter feed exploded this morning with the news of Earls latest beef announcement:

“We made a mistake when we moved away from Canadian beef.” says Earls President, Mo Jessa.”We want to make this right. We want Canadian beef back on our menus so we are going to work with local ranchers to build our supply of Alberta beef that meets our criteria.”

See their full press release here.

This comes after an uproar over Earls decision to source all of its beef supply from Kansas based Creekstone Farms, in order to “Ethically Source” from a Certified Humane supplier who was also 100% antibiotic and added hormone free. I wrote about this decision last week here. Cattle producers across Canada were outraged by the insinuation that Canadian beef is not raised humanely. The hashtag #boycottearls was born, and farmers and consumers united to show Earls just how important Canadian beef is to them.

When I first heard the news, I did the kind of awkward happy dance that you pray that no one will ever see. The idea that the Canadian beef community not only has a voice, but also how incredibly supportive Canadian consumers were (and are!) filled my heart with joy. Knowing that my voice helped create this change was icing on the cake. But me being me, I had to look closer at what this actually means.

Earls posted this on the their Facebook page:

Earls fans, we’re listening to you. We made a mistake and we’re sorry. It was wrong to move away from Canadian Beef and we want to make it right. Earls will get Canadian Beef back on the menu. We are going back to Aspen Ridge and will work hard to source as much ‪#‎CanadianBeef that meets our criteria as possible.

For anyone that read my post that went a little viral last week, you will know that my biggest beef (no pun intended!) with Earls’ decision was the lack of integrity in their marketing. Conciously using words like “Humane”, putting emphasis on “antibiotics and added hormones”, instead of postive promotion of great food, is what is what I had issues with. From their statement above, this has not changed. They say that Canadian beef will be back on their menus, but are only willing to work with one small supplier in order to maintain their marketing buzz word sourcing. Earls themselves have said that Aspen Ridge cannot supply enough beef to fully service even one of their Alberta restaurants. Can we consider this move of opening the door a crack to allow a small amount of Canadian beef into their restaurants meaningful change? Or just more meaningless marketing jargon? Only time will tell.

Admitting you are wrong is never easy, and is a huge step for any company. I give full credit to Earls for taking that first step. But that is not the end. This is one win in the war against fear based marketing.

Earls has opened the door, just a crack, to Canadian beef. It is now our job as Canadian beef producers to open that door wider, engage in meaningful conversations with both Earls and consumers, and discuss the realities and truths of Canadian beef production. Let’s not let this storyline ride off into the sunset – we need to keep up the important work of talking with consumers and restaurants alike about how and why we are raising the best darn beef available in the world.

cows sunset

See the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association statement here

This Canadian Rancher’s Take on Earls’ Beef Campaign 

Earls Kitchen and Bar has set the Canadian farming world all a-twitter.  The restaurant chain has recently launched a new marketing campaign promoting their latest development in beef  – “Certified Humane” raised without the use of antibiotics or added hormones and steroids.

*Sigh*

I don’t (didn’t) mind Earls as a dining option. Up until now, they sourced their beef for their 56 Canadian restaurants here, in Canada. They have great summertime patios, and they make fantastic Caesars. Their head office is in Vancouver, and their first ever location was started in 1982 in Edmonton, Alberta. Sounds good, right? Then suddenly their marketing took a turn that just doesn’t sit right with me.

Their first words of their sourcing strategy label their beef as “Certified Humane”, which struck immediate warning bells for me. As a beef producer, I have had the opportunity to visit and tour MANY cattle farms. I can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the vast majority of Canadian Beef farms and ranches are raising their cattle in a humane way. We are ranchers for a reason – we like working with animals every day. I have no issue with weeding out the “bad apples” that are bound to turn up in any industry, but these bad farmers are so uncommon, I cannot imagine the need to base your entire purchasing decision around them. I visited the http://certifiedhumane.org website and most specifically their producer page. On the page directed towards the farmers who would use their certification process, there was zero information on what they considered “humane”, zero mention of how becoming certified humane would benefit a farmer’s animals, zero mention of ways to make a farm more humane for it’s animals. So what was the producer page for? Sales. It was touted as a way to sell more product. End of story. Andrew Campbell wrote an article for Real Agriculture about what exactly certified humane means… not much. To top this one off – Canada already has steps to make sure our animals are raised humanely. The Canadian Beef Code of Practices is something each and every one of us take pride in, something we follow because it is the right thing to do, not because we get paid more money for it.


So there’s that. I moved on a few words to “without the use of antibiotics”. This is perhaps the most terrifying marketing catch phrase in my mind. Why? Because this directly impacts animal welfare. I fully believe that healthy animals begin with prevention. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is completely true. The problem is that all sickness cannot be eradicated with prevention alone. Just like people, animals get sick sometimes, it’s a fact of life. Any program that rewards the decision to withhold medication has the potential to have a huge negative impact on animal welfare. Last year, Subway in the USA announced it was going to start sourcing only meat raised without the use of antibiotics. There was an uproar from the agricultural community, explaining the need for (and ethics in using) antibiotics. Subway soon saw the error in their strategy, and reversed their decision. Perhaps Earls could learn something from this. I will stand by the fact that just as I would with my children, if an animal on our ranch falls ill, I will give it the necessary medicine. It would be cruel if I didn’t.

And finally, “no added hormones or steroids”. This I have spoken about many times. With the use of proven  safe methods, including hormones, Canadian farmers are now able produce MORE beef (32% more), while using significantly LESS resources (24% less land and 29% less breeding stock), and creating a significantly SMALLER environmental footprint (15% less greenhouse gasses). I wrote about this HERE. Can we produce beef without hormone implants? Sure. But why choose to do less with more if it is a proven, safe, efficient method? To learn more about hormone use in beef read here or here.

To top all of this information off, Earls has switched from using Canadian Beef to sourcing 100% of their beef from one operation (Creekstone Farms) in Kansas. While there is nothing wrong with that in itself, it does make me wonder about how consistent Earls quality of choice cuts, like steak, could possibly be. Many restaurants that serve top quality beef will go with a large suppliers top label. Cargill, for example, has their Sterling Beef brand – which has quality specifications (marbeling, grade and aging) so high that under 12 percent of the beef through their plant is accepted. That is a HUGE amount of beef that is sorted through to chose only the best. If you are starting out with a much smaller number, your top percentage will reflect that. Even beef that was raised and fed the same will have large differences in quality – it is an issue within the beef industry. I cannot understand why a restaurant like Earls would choose to limit their options in this way. oh, and did I mention that said Creekstone Farms, while has some feel – good marketing surrounding it, is actually owned by Sun Capital Partners. From their twitter profile: Sun Capital Partners is a leading private investment firm focused on leveraged buyouts, private equity, debt and other investments in market-leading companies. Now don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe there is nothing wrong with outside investment in agriculture, just as much as I believe large farms can be as great as small farms, but that sentence (of truth) gives you a completely different feeling than their logo must intend.

creekstone

So all of this makes me wonder. It makes me question when restaurants and retailers will start marketing their food based on true quality, not catch phrases and gimmicks. When will real, honest, good food win out? Because there is one thing I know about great steak – it speaks for itself.

Adrienne Ivey – Canadian Rancher, Mom and Blogger