Victorian grassfed beef producer Nigel Stephens, "Billabong Park" at Wangaratta, says supplying a high quality label is satisfying work.

Grassfed beef powers on

Grassfed juggernaut still has a long way to run.

MINCE and scotch fillet steaks are proving the star performers of Coles’ Graze label as it is rolled out nationally in the latest stage of Australia’s great grassfed beef juggernaut.

The supermarket says such is the rate of customer demand for high quality grassfed beef it has needed to double the number of farmers required to supply is Graze range as it expands from selected NSW and Victoria stores to all states and territories.

Spurred on by inhouse research indicating 79 per cent of customers want meat that comes from animals “raised and fed naturally”, Coles is promoting its Graze label as entirely from cattle that graze freely on grass.

Coles said the response from farmers had been overwhelmingly positive and Graze products were now sourced from more than 300 farming families.

The expansion of Graze is in line with wider industry growth of  grassfed beef labels, including the success of Woolworths’ pasturefed offering Grasslands.

Australia’s beef marketing guru Richard Rains, the man credited with establishing the sale of Australian beef to restaurant chain McDonald’s, says grassfed is no fad - it’s here to stay and its potential still has plenty of miles to run.

That’s not necessarily to the detriment of grainfed beef by any stretch, he says.

It’s about giving consumers choice and the “something different” they are clearly indicating they want.

“Millennials, in particular, are after an experience,” Mr Rains, former Sanger Australia boss, said.

“Meat in a meal is now far more than just sustenance.

“Rather than just something to keep your ribs apart, it has to be something to savour and something that comes with a story, a background.”

Feeding into the grassfed story, according to Mr Rains, is everything from taste and nutrition to sustainability and the notion animals are enjoying a good life.

The potential of marketing a point of difference is very good in terms of driving better returns down the supply chain but the industry had to be proactive in its marketing, he said.

“Beef is not just a steak anymore - it’s no added hormones or grassfed or a brand,” he said.

“I dip my lid to the likes of Coles who have been the first to say things like no HGPs (hormone growth promotants), despite being cried down by industry.

“Don’t shoot the customer who wants something different, embrace it.”

While there has been some disappointment that brands like Graze have not linked into the industry-created certification program PCAS (Pasturefed Cattle Assurance Scheme), Cattle Council of Australia president Howard Smith said most, including Coles, had recognised PCAS as the gold standard.

Indeed, in a statement on the issue, Coles said: “The core elements of the Graze standard, relating to animal feed, water and animal traceability were developed to align with PCAS.  “We also worked directly with producers to ensure we understood the range of opportunities and challenges of developing a program that enables Coles to supply grass-fed beef year round.

“The Graze standard contains additional elements such as animal welfare, animal handling practices and farm management. Producers are required to complete on an on-farm assessment against these standards and are subject to independent audits by Aus-Meat.”

Mr Howard said the creators of PCAS had set a very high bar and in doing so had achieved what they set out to do.

“Grassfed is now a premium product where ten years ago it was looked on as an inferior product,” he said.

FOR North East Victoria beef producers Hannah and Nigel Stephens, supplying a premium grassfed label may come with challenges but it also comes with a good deal of satisfaction.

The couple, who have fattened cattle on 600 hectares of improved pasture at “Billabong Park”, Wangaratta, for Coles for the past 15 years were among the first in the country to supply the Graze label when it was launched two years ago.

They buy in mixed breed weaners and take them through to 500 kilograms in around nine months.

“There is a lot of satisfaction in producing a high quality product - a lot goes into it so it is great to watch the growth in consumer demand,” Mr Stephens said.

“Grassfed is now the desired product.

“Consumers are looking for the whole clean, green image and a product they know is backed.”

The Stephens’ feel it is is a secure market and their relationship with the retailer is strong.

That gives them the confidence to expand.

“We’ve already grown a fair bit on this job. We have increased our turnoff by 35pc and expect more to come in the next few years,” Mr Stephens said.

“We are confident that consumer demand will only grow, it has certainly been promising so far.”

The big challenge, he said, was having grass all the time.

“We have irrigation, an extensive fertilising program and we look closely at what we grow throughout the year, “ he said.

“We grow a range of crops so we have feed on hand all the time.”

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