May 1st, 2016 - Brand

The big beef brouhaha

This morning I’m wondering what Bus Fuller has on his mind. Have he and son Stan (CEO of the Earls chain) sat down over a big old plate of Kansas beef and talked about the great beef debate of 2016?

If you’ve missed it, Earls announced they were switching to Certified Humane beef this week and would be sourcing it all from Creekstone Farms out of Kansas. The implication is that the restaurant chain couldn’t find humanely raised beef products in Alberta or anywhere in Canada.

The backlash was swift as Canadians (mainly from Alberta and Saskatchewan) defended their beef and industry practices.

Over the past few days, two camps emerged to the benefit of Earls and the detriment of Canadian beef producers: Certified Humane vs. Alberta Beef. However, these are not mutually exclusive concepts as Earls would like us all to believe.

Those who have rallied around Earls haven’t looked beyond the new “certified” label and what it actually means. It sounds good. Social media is full of claims that Earls is simply marketing to a new generation of informed and enlightened consumers and the Alberta cattle industry had better start treating their cows better if they want to survive. Earls happily backed up this idea by constantly tweeting that they couldn’t source Canadian beef to meet their new standards.

In my world Earls is late to this party. The ethical food movement isn’t new and hip. My kid’s been raised on organic food, right from her first bites. Most of my grocery shopping is done at the Calgary Farmers Market, backfilled at Sunterra. And not just because I believe in healthy eating and the ethical treatment of animals, but because I believe in shopping locally and supporting local growers and farmers. It is also much fresher, and doesn’t involve all those trucks. Worrying about our carbon footprint is a big thing these days, isn’t it?

So I have trouble wrapping my head around how people can justify that it’s better for Earls to roll their beef out on trucks from one big Kansas farm rather than sourcing it from local producers. That’s insane. The Earls key message is that Canada can’t meet the demand. The truth is that they couldn’t find one individual supplier to supply the entire chain. Why not choose local products for local restaurants? Let Northern Alberta supply Northern Alberta, Southern Alberta supply the south, farms in Saskatchewan supply those Earls and so on and so on. I’ve asked the question to Earls a few times over a few platforms, including a private email, and have not received an answer.

I’m interested to watch this beef debate play out. Maybe Earls will do just fine with this marketing ploy and gain that new generation of customers. But in my world of reputation management, brand is bigger than marketing. Brand is about character … and this ploy doesn’t speak well of the organization’s character. If they truly were concerned about the things they are trumpeting, they’d have found a better solution than Kansas beef.

And speaking of branding, it seems to me the Canadian beef industry has a strong brand, but might need to step up their marketing game. Let’s be proud to tell the world about our healthy, humane practices.

With gratitude,

Shannon Larkins

Inspired by a little blackcoffee

Some of my favourite moments are spent in search of something beautiful while I drink my first cup of coffee and hear the house wake up. From there I move on to the paper and the news of the day. In this space, I’ll share some of those inspirations.


Shannon Larkins

Founder, Blackcoffee Studio

Over the course of 15+ years, Shannon has grown Blackcoffee Studio out of a love for building brands and reputations. She serves up Blackcoffee as a morning ritual while caffeinating clients and readers on the regular. You can find her at


Blackcoffee Studio

Blackcoffee is a premium brand development agency, offering luxury brand experience to clients at home in Calgary, Canada and around the globe. Brands create experience, set you apart from the competition and drive growth. Anyone can bulid a business but only the exceptional can create a brand. Are you ready?

Shannon Larkins

Shannon Larkins

Hi I’m Shannon, founder of Blackcoffee Studio. A former reporter, spin doctor and politico, I now focus on using my powers for good.

I create mighty brands for clients and share their stories with the world. I’m also rather addicted to my nutty family, dogs with pushed in faces, Mexico and of course coffee … black.