Food Mailers Not Worried About Mad Cow Disease

A week after the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s announcement that mad cow disease, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), was found in a slaughtered dairy cow, catalogers that sell beef say they don’t expect sales to decline.

“I think in the short term, a lot of customers are questioning the product,” says Ed Scavuzzo, president of Kansas City Steaks (KCS), “but when they learn that U.S. beef is safe, especially from the Midwest, I don’t think there will be any issue.” He points out that, unlike the afflicted cow in Washington State, the beef used by KCS, like that used by most other beef catalogers, comes from corn-fed cows that slaughtered at 24 months or younger.

To that end, Scavuzzo says KCS will post a notice on its Website highlighting the safety of its products. Scavuzzo says that since the news broke last week, the company has received a flurry of calls from customers asking how they can be sure KCS beef is safe and whether the company sources beef from the affected areas of the country.

“Our sales are right in line with where they should be,” Scavuzzo notes. “If people are going to eat beef, they’re going to choose beef from the Midwest.”

Oklahoma City, OK-based beef cataloger Cusak Meat Co. will, like KCS, use its Website to reassure customers. It will direct visitors to the Website of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the same organization the USDA is referring the public to for information on the safety of beef, says sales manager Kelly Hall.

Hall, who says there has been no financial impact since the mad cow announcement last week, says she was nervous about the short-term future of her business when the news first broke. “Just the words ‘mad cow disease’ cause a lot of people to panic,” she says, “but as more information came out, I began to feel that it would not affect us negatively because we really do take every precaution to ensure that our products are safe.”

In fact, Tony Cox, president of Richardson, TX-based Catalog Solutions, says the mad cow scare might work to the advantage of beef catalogers. Cautious steak lovers will be more inclined to buy from a smaller supplier of beef, such as a catalog company, rather than from a larger entity such as a supermarket chain. Cox, whose company advises food mailers, recalls that past scares about shellfish contamination led to sales increases for specialty catalogers such as Lobster Gram.

Cox recommends that beef catalogers use their catalogs and Websites to make sure customers understand the differences in quality between their products and those of other beef marketers. “The best thing they can do is stress the quality, the guarantee,” he says. “The beauty of direct marketing is you can put all that stuff in the copy.”

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