Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability


Next steps for Calgary Co-op'

Why animal welfare is critical to brand reputation for Canada's livestock industries

Posted: July 16, 2013

Photo credit: Calgary Co-op

Calgary Co-op is one of the largest retail co-operatives in North America, with more than 44,000 members and annual sales of more than $1 billion. Under its cooperative structure, Co-op members can put forward non-binding resolutions at the AGM which if passed by a members vote are moved on to the company Board of Directors and management for consideration.

Now what?

It's an obvious question following the landmark vote by Calgary Co-op members in favor of eggs and pork not sourced from production systems using particular poultry cages and sow gestation stalls.

A clear picture of what the future holds remains elusive, as the retailer cautiously and methodically moves through a process to evaluate the implications of the vote and its options for moving forward.

Deane Collinson, CEO of Calgary Co-op, spoke at the recent Future Fare event in Red Deer, hosted by the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA).

He offered an overview of Calgary Co-op's unique position in the marketplace and always-evolving efforts to boost competitiveness. He also provided an insider's perspective on what the resolution may indicate about shifting consumer attitudes, along with the potential implications for the retailer's marketing approaches and supply relationships.

Here's a sampling of the key points and insights from that session:

Vote is non-binding. The member's resolution on eggs and pork sourcing - passed by 97-67 – is non-binding, but reading between the lines of Collinson's comments, it seems a shift in this direction is likely over time depending on the logistics of securing supply. Ultimate decisions rest with the Calgary Co-op board and executive management. The retailer has said it will work with Federated Co-operatives Ltd. as well as producer groups, including Alberta Pork, as it examines potential next steps.

Signal of shifting consumer attitudes. The fact the resolution was passed can be taken as an indication the welfare issue increasingly resonates with consumers, says Collinson. "We need to consider that maybe this the edge of something and we need to listen. If this many people voted for this, it's likely there is something there. Maybe this is an opportunity we need to recognize and a road we need to move down."

Touching a hot button. "The amount of phone calls and emails we got from this hitting the papers was unbelievable," says Collinson. "Some people who have shopped at the competition are saying the resolution is great and they've switched over and are now shopping with us."

A rising issue. It's unclear how powerful and widespread the consumer drive is on welfare he says, but there's little doubt it's significant. "Is it going to be everybody? Of course it's not going to be everybody. But there's clearly some demand for this."

Deane Collinson, CEO of
Calgary Co-op

Recognizing complexity and learning from experts. Calgary Co-op has recognized that animal welfare is a sophisticated issue beyond its expertise. "We're trying to learn more about it, to consult with producer groups and animal welfare experts, to better understand the issue," says Collinson. "One thing we know for certain is that it's not going away. We need to work together as an industry to figure our way through this."

Perception is reality. Collinson has consulted briefly with animal welfare expert Dr. Ed Pajor of the University of Calgary and says that Calgary Co-op plans to further engage produce groups and other knowledgeable industry and animal welfare sources in the weeks and months ahead.

"One of the things we're learning about early on is that there is a clear perception / reality gap among many consumers," says Collinson. "Everyone has this 'Old Macdonald' view of what a farm should be. They have no idea the challenges that the producer community has to raise livestock efficiently at a reasonable cost. But that reality gap is a problem we can't dismiss and need to address. Because perception is reality when it comes to consumer decisions."

Focus on 'win-wins.' For the pork sector in particular, a separate but perhaps related issue is how to add value to the pork category of the meat case, he says. "We can continue selling commodity pork but there's more opportunity we can explore. We need to look at all ways we can diversify and further enhance Canadian pork as a brand we can be proud of. Addressing the welfare issue can be a part of that."

Reprintable with credit. This article is available for reprint, with acknowledgement of the source as Meristem Land and Science, www.meristem.com.

Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land use. More articles at www.meristem.com.




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