BUILDING brand reputation to the stage where the product can be priced above the reach of beef market fluctuations and also allow for business growth has been the end point for Blackmore Wagyu since day one.
Making the brand Blackmore more recognisable than the Wagyu brand itself has been the aim.
The pathway to that is complex but David Blackmore shared a few of the secrets of how his family managed to create one of the world's most exclusive beef products at this year's ABARES Outlook conference in Canberra.
Blackmore was one of the first Australian beef producers to include their brand name on menus and today sends fullblood Wagyu to high end restaurants and gourmet butchers in 14 countries.
Farm with your head and your heart, use your story as your strongest marketing tool and learn what customers want and then make it, he told a fascinated Canberra audience.
"We always intended to produce a product for a niche market, rather than try and feed the world," Mr Blackmore said.
"We aimed for a product that increased the patronage of those top-end restaurants due to its quality and its story."
As a result, Blackmore is able to set a price that covers the cost of production then leaves some for investing in new technologies and sustainable ways so continued growth is guaranteed.
"We set the price once a year, allowing our customers to budget well in advance. All products are pre-sold before processing. We never have stock on hand," he said.
"We never discount. Once you do, it is expected - just look at store retailing.
"We have never advertised our product but we are continually marketing. We have a strong, realistic story that is presented to our customers and then onto consumers."
A sixth generation Australian family-owned farming business, Blackmore runs around 4000 head of fullblood Wagyu on 3200 hectares at Alexandra in Victoria, processing between 60 and 70 head a month.
In comparison, JBS processes 9000 cattle a day in Australia.
David, the fifth generation and affectionately known as 'Mr Wagyu', said it all started for him when as a 10-year-old his grandfather gave him his first cow as payment for work he was doing on the farm.
After school he spent time as a stock agent, which he says was the best training he could have had in the area of commerce, marketing, export and understanding the agriculture industry.
In 1979 he arranged the first on-farm cattle embryo transfer program in Australia and his embryo work took him around the world sourcing genetics.
He discovered that Wagyu, with its unique meat quality being a big point of difference over other beef, was available outside of Japan.
"We researched the breed, heritage and history in Japan and built a complete family tree of the most famous bloodlines," he said.
Today, every Blackmore animal is parent-verified by DNA and has its complete history recorded - from average daily weight gain to all treatments and paddock movements.
All carcase information is also recorded and Blackmore's carcase database now has six generations of cattle.
"Everything we do is fully traceable and accountable," Mr Blackmore said.
"That's our story - our honesty and integrity can never be questioned."
The health advantage
As competitors have followed in their footsteps, the Blackmores realised they had to continue to find a point of difference.
"This year we have embarked on a new research area of meat science," Mr Blackmore said.
"Today consumers are better educated and more health conscious. We believe that scientifically proven information relating to health factors of our product will be important to consumers when making their dining choices.
"Because of new scientific methodology we can for the first time examine the type of lipids that relate to meat and fat texture and the different fatty acid ratios that relate to healthy fat.
"We can look at the thousands of molecules like amino acids and how these factors are varied by the animal's diet and as we interact this data with our genomic data we will examine the heritability of these traits in our cattle.
"We will be hoping to identify specific genes that will enhance human health."
With changing climate, the Blackmores have also been tweaking their farming methods by selecting different crops and pasture species.
In recent years, two new farms have been purchased with extensive irrigation licenses in different regions to attempt to reduce risks.
"For the past two years, all our cattle have needed to be hand fed, so we now budget this as the new norm," Mr Blackmore said.
Waterways, lagoons and rivers have been fenced and more than 10,000 trees planted.
The ability to build in sustainability in a beef operation, and to invest in research that will pave the way for new 'points of difference', all comes back to being profitable, Mr Blackmore said.
And that comes back to identifying what customers want.
"Then they will want to buy your product - you won't have to sell it," he said.
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