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    Consumers View Meat Dept. ‘White Coats’ as White Knights

    Partners launch online retail training program to beef up staff knowledge

    A new web-based retail training program to help boost knowledge about today’s beef and how it’s produced is the central goal of a partner effort between the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), the Beef Checkoff program and Merck Animal Health.

    Recognizing the need for more training of meat-counter employees in the wake of a series of consumer panels conducted by Merck Animal Health that found consumers strongly identifying behind-the-counter staff as experts, Carrie Thomas, account manager for food chain affairs for Merck Animal Health, said the need for training was handily confirmed.

    “We conducted four panels in two cities. One of the key take away messages from those meetings was consumers still identify the person in the ‘white coat’ behind the meat counter — ‘the butcher’ — as the beef expert,” said Thomas. “We want them to be beef experts. To do that, we need to arm them with information about today’s beef supply and how it’s produced.”

    Because consumer decisions about the products they buy are now far more complex than they were in the recent past -- including how animals were raised, sustainability and animal welfare to practices employed by cattle-farm families and ranchers -- Thomas said questions on those topics aren’t always easily addressed by the individuals responsible for putting beef on people’s plates: retail meat counter employees.

    The new training initiative aims to bridge the knowledge gap between the consumer and their food, a process for which retail employees hold the key.

    Better Beef Sales education program consists of a series of six web-based training modules for the retail meat counter employees on the front lines of consumer marketing. Topics covered in the videos include: types and quality of beef offered today; sustainability of today’s beef; animal welfare practices; beef-improvement technologies; and ways retailers can add value to the meat case.

    “As cattle numbers continue to decrease and retail beef supplies become tighter, it’s going to take more effort to keep beef center of the plate,” Thomas noted. “We want to make sure retail employees and consumers understand how their beef is produced and how these wholesome, quality products end up on our dinner tables.”

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