CITY, Mo. — John and Mona Loewen used to drive all the way from northwest Oklahoma to Kansas City to shop for their Certified Hereford Beef® (CHB). The Loewens raise Hereford cattle near Waukomis, Okla., and they are choosy about their burgers, roasts and steaks.
Starting this spring they can buy CHB locally, thanks to a special collaboration between CHB LLC and United Supermarkets, a 26-store grocery chain in Oklahoma.
“I grew up with Hereford meat so I know how much better it tastes,” Mona says. “I can tell the difference.”
The Loewens were among several Oklahoma Hereford Association members who participated in a kickoff event March 31 in Ponca City to introduce shoppers to Certified Hereford Beef. Members of the Ponca City FFA chapter sold Certified Hereford Beef smoked tri-tip sandwiches, and Harry the inflatable bull welcomed United Supermarkets customers as store managers, cattle producers, FFA students and Saturday shoppers mingled on a breezy spring day.
In the back of the store, meat manager Glenn Purvis was busy keeping the meatcase stocked for a steady stream of customers.
“A lot of people raise Herefords around here and know exactly what they are,” Purvis says. “If they don't, I tell them the story of how Herefords were brought over to this country before the turn of the century to help produce more tender beef.”
Purvis also explains to customers how modern source verification and processing technologies make it possible for ranchers to offer shoppers a unique product that carries assurances of quality, value and leanness — all features offered through the CHB program.
“Actually, cowboys today are becoming scientists,” he says.
The Certified Hereford Beef in his counter grades “Choice,” which means it has been certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for its high-quality characteristics. “Once our customers try eating CHB Choice beef, they are sold on it,” he says.
“This is a good product that we can really take pride in,” adds Purvis, emphasizing that United Supermarkets still cuts its meat fresh and to order everyday.
Meat managers throughout the company were enthusiastic about teaming up with local ranchers.
“They are very proud of what they do and what they raise, and they are willing to go the extra mile to promote it,” says Travis Gracey, who oversees the meat departments in 13 of the company's stores. “It shows they are not just raising cattle; they care about how it tastes at the table. From farm to plate, they are interested in the whole process.”
“The customer response has been great,” adds Ken Gracey, United Supermarkets meat operations director, who is based at the company's headquarters in Altus. “It's starting out with a bang. The Oklahoma Hereford ranchers have jumped right in and are willing to help us and work with us in any way they can.”
Making the partnership especially meaningful is that Oklahoma has the second highest number of breed registrations nationwide, says Craig Huffhines, executive vice president for the American Hereford Association (AHA), based in Kansas City, Mo.
“We're in ranch country,” he says. “There's a real strong connection to beef here. That's why we're excited about being in Oklahoma. United Supermarkets are in those towns that are in the center of ranch country, where we will see some of our commercial and purebred cattle producers come in and buy their groceries. They are going to walk by that meatcase, and that gives you a sure sense of pride of ownership when you can see a brand that you are participating in producing.”
Ponca City FFA Advisor Kevin Frazier says he is preparing his students to be the next generation of Hereford beef consumers. Members of his chapter sold CHB sandwiches, raising $1,600 to travel to the State FFA Convention in Oklahoma City in late April.
“In the classroom, we spend a lot of time on meat quality,” he says. “We gear our program more to the consumer end. I want them to make good decisions at the grocery store.”
As part of their vocational agriculture program, his students studied the tri-tip cut of beef and what it takes for cattle to qualify for the Certified Hereford Beef program.
“They are good kids,” he says. “I'm very proud of them.”
The event also raised about $400 to support three scholarships for the top exhibitors in the annual Hereford heifer show at the Oklahoma Youth Expo.
National Junior Hereford Association President Catie Sims, Elgin, Okla., came out to support the event. Sims raises cattle with her two brothers and has been showing cattle since she was 7. She is now a junior at Oklahoma State University studying nutritional science and pre-nursing.
She says maintaining consumer confidence is one of her highest priorities.
“I think USDA and Certified Hereford Beef are doing a good job of making sure beef is safe. We need consumers supporting it,” she says. “It's good for you. It's high in iron and protein.”
Mary Ann Berg, Dalton, Ohio, was one of two CHB ambassadors from out of state who visited six stores in less than a week conducting cooking demonstrations and handing out samples of Certified Hereford Beef.
She enjoyed seeing the wide-open fields of Oklahoma during her visit and the chance to interact with a lot of shoppers.
“They have been very impressed with the tenderness. They've also been very impressed with us stressing the consistency of the product,” she says. “Whatever they get today, a month from now if they purchase it again, they want to know they are going to have that same consistency in tenderness. I think that's really important to people.”
“We've also stressed the animal health,” she continues. “I think that's an issue for everyone. I've told shoppers that it's a very regulated product. It goes through many specifications before it's here for them to buy.”
“It's very satisfying,” she says of her role as CHB Ambassador, echoing the sentiments of many of the other ranchers who participated. “I really feel at ease promoting the product because I believe in it so much, so it's a very easy assignment.”
CHB LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary of the AHA. Its threefold mission is: to provide consumers with consistently tender, juicy and flavorful beef products; to enhance the marketing opportunities of food industry distributors, retailers and restaurateurs; and to increase the demand for commercial Hereford-influenced cattle.
For more information, call (816) 842-3758 or visit www.herefordbeef.net.