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Guenther: A+W supplier seeking more ranchers

The Canadian supplier of A+W Canada’s “Better Beef” wants your cattle.

Alberta-based Spring Creek Ranch, an operation known until now in farming circles mainly for its stewardship efforts, has become a featured player in the burger chain’s new promotions and is recruiting producers to help it fill A+W’s requirements at home.

“There are many Canadian producers that would qualify for our Spring Creek program with minimal changes to their operation,” Melissa Downing, Spring Creek’s producer liaison, said via email.

A+W, Canada’s second-biggest burger chain, rolled out the “Better Beef” campaign last month in what it described as a bid to satisfy customers’ desire to know where their food comes from.

The campaign declares all burgers sold at A+W’s 790 restaurants across Canada “are now made with beef that has been raised without any added steroids or hormones and contains no added preservatives or additives.”

A+W bills itself as the first burger chain in Canada to adopt such a policy.

Spring Creek, the sole Canadian supplier to A+W Canada, is providing trim to the company. A+W Canada is also sourcing beef from suppliers in Australia and the U.S.

“We’ve discovered that things like no hormones, no steroids are very, very important to our customers, remarkably so,” Susan Senecal, chief marketing officer for A+W, recently told Reuters.

The A+W campaign’s website also states the company sources beef from suppliers who only treat animals with antibiotics “when medically necessary to ensure the health of the animal, in the same way that most doctors recommend the use of antibiotics for people.”

The chain’s campaign has come under criticism from some Canadian cattle producers — some concerned it may mislead consumers about the safety or quality of conventional Canadian beef, others noting A+W has had to step outside Canada to buy enough beef to fulfill the new policy.

Spring Creek has got out in front of such criticisms on Twitter, for example, responding that it’s a Canadian company, works with producers in Western Canada and is actively seeking ranchers to join its program.

Spring Creek, started in 2004 by the Kotelko family, has offices in Edmonton and feedlot and ranch operations in the Vegreville area. The company also supplies beef to restaurants and retail stores across Canada including Calgary Co-op, Sobeys and, for its in-store Open Nature beef brand, Safeway.

The company mainly requires cattle that have been raised from birth without antibiotics or added hormones.

“There are consumers that are willing to pay more for beef raised without antibiotics or added hormones, and they want to know that our claims are verified if they are paying extra,” Downing said.

“Our label claims are CFIA-approved and we are annually third-party audited, which relays our integrity to the customer.”

Other guidelines include Angus genetics, age verification and birth certificates, and that ranchers have owned the cattle from birth.

Downing confirmed the company pays a premium to ranchers, which depends on several factors. They deal with each producer individually, she added, and take other management practices and logistics into consideration.

Cow-calf producers interested in finding out more about the Spring Creek program are asked to contact Downing directly.

“We support all Canadian beef producers and the various production options. We are happy to be one of the options available for both producers and consumers,” she said.

— Lisa Guenther is a field editor for Grainews at Livelong, Sask. Follow her @LtoG on Twitter.

Related stories:
A+W Canada tightens beef sourcing requirements, Sept. 24, 2013
Cattle producers take issue with beef marketing claims, Sept. 26, 2013

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