“This is more than a celebration of marbling.”

President John Stika said that as he kicked off the CAB brand annual conference in Nashville.

The event was dubbed #BeefBash17 and the street barbecue the night before featured more high-quality beef than I’d ever seen in one place before. It was delicious and photogenic—I watched food bloggers gathering photos and taking notes.


Pitmasters from Texas and North Carolina delighted conference attendees with their best in a street barbecue that showcased the brand on opening night.

It was clear that it was, in part, about the marbling.

But I’d already seen the brand in action, educating partners during a tour of Deer Valley Farms.

“The more comfortable we keep the animal, the harder she works for us,” general manager Jonathan Perry said. It was just the first of many educational highlights.

It was also apparent that it was indeed a celebration. There was a lot to celebrate.


Fiscal year 2017 set an 11th consecutive annual sales record, continuing a 13-year-streak of year-over-year growth, President John Stika told the crowd, while wearing his Porter Wagoner-inspired jacket in the Music City.

Starting with fiscal year sales record of 1.12 billion pounds, a 25% increase in two years and growth in every division from retail to foodservice to international.

Then there was the room full of people who helped us get there. More than 600 partners gathered, representing a cross-section of the 19,000 across 50 countries who are licensed to sell the brand.

[After meeting several of these people I should note that “licensed to sell” is a pretty weak description. They are fired up, motivated, ambassadors of high-quality beef.]

But for all the awards and fanfare, it wasn’t so much a conference about looking back as it was about looking forward.

Our team wants to make sure everybody in the beef community has the tools they need to go out and market more.

“We’re all going to have an opportunity to get better, to improve,” Stika said.


“You just had a great 12 months, but we have to stay agile and hungry,” said futurist Anders Sorman-Nilsson.

When I packed up my notebook from Nashville, here were a few nuggets I had tucked inside:

  • “Claiming that your business is customer centric will be impossible unless you’re data centric,” said futurist Anders Sorman-Nilsson. “We have to connect with digital minds and analog hearts.”

He wasn’t speaking directly to cattlemen, but I think that makes sense for this side of the business, too. You can use genetics, carcass and performance data to improve your herd, but then still need to connect with consumers on why you care about their eating experience enough to do all that.

  • The business has been profitable from one end to the other from the cattleman to the feedyard to the packer.” Randy Blach, CattleFax president, had lots of interesting comments on the numbers and markets (as always), but his most compelling had to do with the uphill battle beef must fight (increased production in all proteins, volatility in the futures market, etc.) and how the only way to win will be to work together. CAB has been an example. Nearly 30% of the A-stamp cattle were accepted into the brand this year, making more than a 10% increase in tonnage.

“It’s pretty incredible to grow supply that much and keep an upward trend in value. Consumers want quality and they’re willing to pay for it,” Blach said.

  • A brand inspires you. There is loyalty and it can bring you into their family,” said Steve Battista, former Under Armor executive. He talked of how good brands are built with people, telling their stories. “There is power in building a community.” I couldn’t help but cheer a little inside, thinking about why I do what I do: Writing stories about and for the cattlemen and women who raise high-quality beef. I want you to be more successful by raising the brand, by being part of our community. I want to share your story with the world, because it’s a good one, but Battista told us it’s also the way to grow. Seems like a win all the way around.

Stika’s opening address was on target—our annual conference was about so much more.


It wasn’t all about the beef, but conference attendees did eat well.

“It’s a celebration of the relationships and the people that have allowed this brand to become a brand of impact over so many years,” Stika said. “It’s a celebration of each and every one of you and countless others who, throughout this past year, have elevated the relevance of this brand in the eyes of consumers and individuals across our entire industry.”

And what a good “Beef Bash” it was….but now, on to another year of setting our sights even higher!

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,