[John Berry is a food writer for the Edmonton Sun and owner of John Berry's Celebrity Kitchen. Here are some of John's views as expressed in a recent article in the Canadian Elk and Deer Farmer, Fall 2002]
I helped out at the Alberta Elk Commission and Alberta Wapiti Products Co-op booth at the Rocky Mountain Food and Wine Show held recently in Edmonton (Canada). I did two cooking demonstrations on the main cooking stage featuring Alberta Ranched Elk.
Once people taste ranched elk meat, they love it! Many are pleasantly surprised by its tenderness and wonderfully mild flavour.
The biggest concern is how to get people to try it in the wake of the Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) outbreak in the province. One animal out of 40,000 is hardly an outbreak. All of the meat is tested, so in a way it's a non-issue to some. But to some of the great unwashed public, it's still an issue. I had only three people out of several hundred turn up their noses at our offering, but I suppose that is to be expected. How can an uninformed public be expected to make an educated decision unless they know the facts?
I guess this is the next major hurdle that elk ranchers and the industry have to overcome. And fast! Turn the negative into a positive and market elk as a healthy, delicious and affordable alternative to beef and bison. Have you heard the bison commercials on Cool 880 (a local radio station) yet? Come on, guys - you're getting left in the dust.
You need to start building a good foundation for your meat industry. It's been a year since I got involved helping to promote elk meat. A year later you are no further ahead marketing the product or positioning yourself in the market place in the minds of the consumer. Elk what? I even had people at the show ask me where we shot it!
But I guess the bottom line to the show is that you (elk industry) were there. You had hundreds and hundreds of people trying a new product. Their reaction was, "Where can we buy it?"
So you're on the right track. But we have to pick and choose carefully where we go, and how we get our message out. Somebody please formulate that message and let's get going! "Elk meat - a delicious, nutritious health alternative to beef." Or to bison. Or whomever is your biggest competitor. But you need a slogan or phrase that can be splashed across the ads or on radio or TV. You don't even have to mention CWD, but you've got to get it going.
There's no reason why you can't be kicking the stuffing out of your competition right now. But you've got to get aggressive and be in people's faces (in a nice way). A year later is far too long to be spinning your tires.