Meat Mailers Take Mad Cow Disease in Stride

Despite news 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.

In the days after the U.S. Department of Agriculture broke the news in late December, Kansas City Steak Co. received a flurry of calls from customers asking how they can be sure the company’s beef is safe. “I think in the short term, a lot of customers are questioning the product,” says Ed Scavuzzo, president of the Kansas City, KS-based mailer, “but when they learn that U.S. beef is safe, especially from the Midwest, I don’t think there will be any issue.”

Scavuzzo points out that the beef used by his company, like that used by most other beef catalogers, comes from corn-fed cows slaughtered at 24 months or younger. (The affected cow was from the Northwest.) Kansas City Steak was planning to post a notice on its Website highlighting the safety of its products.

Despite concerns, though, “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 Cusack Meat Co. was also planning to use its Website to reassure customers. It will direct site 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.

Almost immediately after the news broke, Cusack heard from customers who had received gifts from the company and wanted to know if the product was safe and whether the disease is truly isolated to areas outside Cusack’s Midwestern-based sourcing zone. Eighty-three percent of Cusack’s sales are to hotels, restaurants, and other businesses, Hall says, and the cataloger’s sales representatives are reassuring its biggest customers of the safety of its products in person.

Cusack hasn’t seen sales fall since the mad cow announcement, but Hall says she was nervous when the news 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.

“The best thing [meat marketers] can do is stress the quality of their products, the guarantee,” Cox says. “The beauty of direct marketing is you can put all that stuff in the copy.”

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