Absolutely atrocious

On the Other Hand

Absolutely atrocious! Earls Restaurant’s decision to unilaterally remove Alberta beef from its menu in favour of humanely-produced Kansas beef created a ground swell of anger amongst Alberta beef producers and Albertans generally.

My first reaction was never to eat at Earl’s again, but needing to get both sides of the story, I’m writing this column while I eat fish and chips at Earls Red Deer.

The problem with a complete boycott of Alberta Earls is that these are franchised restaurants owned by local people. My waitress, who has worked for Earls Red Deer for 10 years, doesn’t like the decision any more than beef producers.  But she seemed traumatized having had to field a number of not-so-nice potshots from customers.

The couple who own Earls Red Deer are long-term, well-respected Red Deerians who are active in the community and generous with both their time and donations. I would be very surprised that they want Kansas beef on their menus.

The hard reality is we need to accept that Earls didn’t make this decision because they were worried about how beef animals are raised.  They made their decision because the world opinion has shifted in that direction.  It’s all about profit and giving the majority of their customers what they want.  Whether we like it or not, companies are finding profitability in marketing humanely-raised, hormone-free, antibiotic-free meats.

Sure we can blame organizations like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), the media and most certainly social media for pushing this agenda. But the reality is whether we believe in humanely-raised beef or not, beef producers need to accept this is the trend. If the majority of buyers are demanding something, you either provide, get out of the business or lose market share.

For those from rural Alberta, we may shake our collective heads that anyone would treat dumb cows, unlovable chickens and stinky pigs like humans. But, alas, those of us who shoot pet dogs when in pain and too sick to survive or kill baby kittens to control their population, might also find it a bit strange how people treat their house pets these days.

The moral of the story is that it is inherent that the beef industry keep abreast of customer demands, and respond appropriately whether we think it makes sense or not.

The beef industry is not the only agricultural sector undergoing a revolution. McDonald’s decision to serve only eggs from cage-free chickens, with other fast food chains following close behind, has forced egg producers to make huge investment and process changes to keep their market share.

Then there’s A&W’s marketing campaign that promotes its hormone-free beef. As other fast foods move in this direction, I can imagine the huge feed lots in southern Alberta might also need to make some substantive changes.

What to do with Earls’ decision.

I will not take my anger out on a small businessman by boycotting Earls Red Deer. I will, however, stop eating any beef dishes at Earls until Alberta Beef is back on the menu.  If every Albertan stopped eating beef at Earls that would send a clear message to the Vancouver suits who made the decision.

I will not take my anger out on the servers at Earls.  They are just earning a living like the rest of us with no power over menu or management decisions.

I will write a letter to Earls head office and demand that they protect their Alberta franchise owners and the Alberta beef industry by allowing Alberta restaurants to source humanely-raised Alberta beef. I might even give them a lesson on corn-fed versus grain-fed beef and how they aren’t even in the same food group for taste and texture, humanely-raised or not.

But the onus for Alberta Beef’s long-term survival rests right in the hands of the beef producers of Alberta.  Whether they think the whole world has gone nuts believing a bunch of bunk about beef production is irrelevant.  Restaurants and fast food chains are sourcing different products because their customers are demanding it.

The decision by Earls in Alberta may seem absolutely atrocious, but the signs all point to more Earls-like decisions for national and international restaurant chains.  Producers and suppliers who forget the principle that the customer is always right should not be surprised when their market share starts to shrink or disappear.

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