Prairie produce

Canadian meat producers target the Middle East.

Opinion, Comment & analysis, Operators, Owners, Hotel

Canadian meat producers target the Middle East.

A group of farmers from Alberta, Canada will soon be launching an office in Dubai to market their meat products throughout the Middle East.

Operating as Prairie Halal Foods, the partnership of seven companies plans to sell Halal beef, bison and elk meat to top-end restaurants in the region explained general manager Wahid Kandil.

"Canada has really good products but they've just been under-marketed internationally for a long time. We haven't been telling people about them.

"Australia and New Zealand have built a brand for their meat products and a reputation for quality. It all comes down to successful marketing.

"Here in Canada, we have the same or even higher quality products and we feel it's time to share that with other markets."

The primary attraction of the Middle East lies in the rapid development of the food and beverage industry, and regional restaurants' demand for a consistent supply of high-quality products said Kandil.

"We attended Gulfood this year and were blown away by the size of the market."

"There's a new restaurant opening almost every week, and a lot of the outlets are very high-end, which is exactly where our products are placed."

Prairie Halal Foods (PHF) is a joint venture between several well-established companies based in the Canadian province of Alberta. Shareholders include Prairie Heritage Beef Producers, a group of natural Angus beef ranchers; Canadian Rangeland Beef and Bison, a beef and bison production and marketing company; Aliya's Foods Ltd, a Halal certified value-added meat processor, and The Meat Grinder, a Halal meat marketing and distribution company.

Other founding partners include value-added meat processor New Food Classics, poultry processor Lilydale, and Halal-certified slaughter plant Canadian Premium Meats, but Kandil added that many other companies would market their products through PHF's marketing network.

"The idea is to provide an entire basket of authentic Canadian products, which all have similar standards in terms of production and quality, as this will make it simpler for chefs to consolidate their orders," he explained.

By having an office in Dubai, PHF would be able to ensure high standards of service for the Middle East market, he added.

"With the geographical distance it's important to have an office on the ground. It means we don't have to deal with time differences and so on, and we can really get to understand the market and consistently deliver exactly what our customers want, when they want it.

"It also demonstrates the level of our commitment to the potential clients - we're investing in the market, opening an office rather than trying to supply from Canada."

Located in the Jebel Ali Free Zone, PHF's office will begin operations in September and from there, the company's products will be distributed throughout the GCC and the rest of the Middle East said Kandil.

"Our plan is to start with Dubai, but that's not the end goal. We want to get into the rest of the region as well, using Dubai as a starting point."

Market opportunities

Canadian Rangeland Beef and Bison's CEO Thomas Ackermann said he was optimistic that his company's products would be a major hit with Middle Eastern chefs and diners.

"There's a lot of call for different meats. The Middle East is a higher-end market where people aren't too concerned with price - they have a taste for something special and that's what we target," he said.

"The goal is to establish bison in the higher-end outlets, not only focusing on the tenderloin and strip loin but also showing how versatile the meat is."

Ackermann added that in Dubai's competitive foodservice climate, more unusual meat products would provide a point of differentiation for restaurants.

"With bison you can tell a story to the customer. The meat's produced on natural pasture where the animals are left to live pretty much as they would in the wild.

"This is definitely not a commodity product."

Ackermann also pointed out that bison and elk are very lean meats.

"Bison has about 30% of the fat of beef and the nutrients are very compact."

"It's important to remember that bison is not a better beef. It's a whole different animal."

Commitment to quality

The beef available from PHF also has its own unique selling points according to the co-founders of Prairie Heritage Beef Producers, Christoph and Erika Weder.

"Our ranchers raise their beef without the use of antibiotics, artificial growth hormones or animal by-products," said Dr Christoph Weder.

"With our Heritage Angus brand of beef, we can guarantee traceability from pasture to plate.

"We can track every animal from when it's slaughtered all the way back along the supply chain. We're also currently testing a DNA trace-back system," he added.

"This would allow us to take a swab of a steak in Dubai, analyse it and trace it back through our computer database to see exactly which cow it came from, on which ranch, and what date the meat was processed."

Prairie Heritage adopts a very different approach from the typical, ‘commodity beef' method of production said Weder.

"Our programme isn't meant to feed the masses. We're trying to get into markets where there's a high disposable income because you pay a premium for this type of product.

"That's why I think the Middle East is an ideal market. People are able to appreciate excellent quality and there is high demand for exclusive products."

While there are several branded natural beef programmes in the US and Canada already, Prairie Heritage beef is the only one to be priced on a ‘fair trade' model, according to Weder, which "takes into account what it cost to produce the beef, plus a fair return for the rancher".

"As well as providing safe and fair working conditions for ranchers and considering quality-of-life issues for farmers and their families, we also ensure the health and humane treatment of our animals."

All the ranchers that participate in the Prairie Heritage programme are extremely "eco-committed" Weder added.

"Our land is home to wildlife such as deer, coyotes, bears, moose, elk, cougars, ducks and all sorts of other creatures.

"This is something that's very important to us personally, and also in terms of promoting the product - we've found that for some people it's really important that the food they eat also sustains biodiversity."

Most industrialised models of beef production are dependent on feeding large quantities of grain to cattle in order to promote rapid growth, but this method has a negative impact on the animals, and on the environment, according to Weder.

Instead, grazing on natural grasslands accounts for more than 70% of Prairie Heritage's cattle's growth and the animals are finished by feeding a balanced diet of silage and barley, allowing the ranchers to supply beef year-round while maintaining the uniformity of the product.

"We don't produce our meat as fast, but it's actually more efficient long term," said Weder.

"We believe the health of the land and the health of the cattle are key to producing healthy beef," said Prairie Heritage co-founder Erika Weder.

"The chefs that have tried our meat have noticed a big difference in flavour. It has a beefier taste and, because we're not using steroid implants, there's not a lot of connective tissue in the muscle, so the meat is more tender," she explained.

"Our meat is a prime product, but consumers can also feel good about it because it supports families that are looking out for the environment."

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