Thursday, July 7, 2022

BMC advised to refurbish its ‘decades-old’ ECCO brand

In the course of studying Botswana’s beef value chain, it struck three European consultants as odd that the Botswana Meat Commission uses the ECCO brand for selling both meat for human consumption and pet food. In the report, they subsequently put together, the consultants say that this practice is ill-advised and should be stopped and that different brands should be developed for these two markets.

“The use of the same brand name and logo for products marketed for human and animal consumption doesn’t favour the sales and could confuse consumers,” says the beef value chain analysis report that was produced on behalf of the Private Sector Development Programme (PSDP).

To avoid such confusion, the Commission is advised to renew the ECCO food brand by way of modern packaging and artwork which would include claims such as “100 % Botswana beef” and “Made in Botswana.” Additionally, a logo of guarantee of quality should be developed.

ECCO products take shape at a cannery next to BMC’s main production plant in Lobatse and supplement trade in beef cuts. One would expect these products to do well in the market because of their origins and the fact that they are made from high-quality beef. However, that is not the case. The PSDP report says that “ECCO has struggled to dominate the market due to the presence of more aggressively sold products from South Africa and Namibia sold at parity or even lower prices.”

Other than the implied suggestion that BMC should be more aggressive and reconsider its price structure, the report explicitly states that a redo of the ECCO brand itself is long overdue: “The brand has existed for many decades and has not been refreshed. It requires updating.” The rebranding should fully capitalise on all the positive attributes of Botswana beef such that there is “creation of a Botswana beef national brand coupled with claims e.g. quality, sourced from communal farming, antibiotics and hormone-free.” That is not happening at the moment.

Some three months ago, the European Union delegation to Botswana hosted a day-long seminar for journalists in Gaborone. In the course of a presentation on EU trade relations with Botswana, John Taylor, the Trade Counsellor, stated that while Botswana beef has a “unique taste” most people in Europe don’t know about it. He added that if the branding of the product was developed to the desirable standard, “its price would go up.” He could well have been quoting the report.

“The general public outside Botswana is not aware of the quality beef the country exports. Very little communication has been carried out to promote beef as a national product. Botswana has been granted a preferential relationship with the European countries through agreements between the EU and SADC region. Nevertheless, it has failed to take advantage of these agreements to better position its products in the lucrative but highly demanding EU market. The result is that the beef exported from Botswana is not sold at the best possible price,” says the PSDP report.

Botswana doesn’t have to look too far for the best example to emulate. The report says that following in the footsteps of countries like Namibia, Botswana should invest in de┬¡veloping a brand for its beef and more broadly seek to increase awareness amongst consumers.

“The development of an appropriate logo and the use of innovative, quality-oriented packaging, reinforced by promotional and advertising campaigns would highlight the premium nature of Botswana beef. This initiative should run parallel with development of a secure procurement and production plan that ensures consistent availability of product at its retail channels,” the consultants note.

They further recommend a national strategy developed and implemented by the National Strategy Office in collabora­tion with Botswana Tourism Organisation and the Ministry of Trade and Industry to promote both Botswana and its beef as an export product.

A related best practice that Botswana can borrow from Namibia relates to the development and implementation of farm quality assurance standards.

“At present, although the Livestock and Meat Industries Act provides basic safeguards on production and process┬¡ing practices, third party quality standards only apply to beef earmarked for exports to EU and to certain key customer. A national Farm Quality Assurance Standard that would give assurance to consumers about the quality of the production methods used, the quality of care for animals which is practiced, the quality of the farm environment, and the quality of practices in producing beef that is wholesome, safe and free from unnatural substances,” says the report adding that the latter would incentivize farmers, through greater acceptability and higher prices, to improve production methods.

To that end, it recommends the model of the Meat Board of Namibia’s Farm Assured Namibian Meat (FAN Meat) scheme which promotes free-range, hormone-free beef with guaranteed veterinary and animal welfare standards.

Credit for the success of the Namibian beef brand has been attributed to GPS Food Group, a United Kingdom company which specialises in global procurement, supply chain management, logistics, and marketing services for meat protein products and already does international marketing for BMC. The consultants recommend that BMC should use GPS to develop its own beef brand.

Over the years, feedlotting has become an important component of Botswana’s beef value chain. Among those who have gone into this business is former president, Sir Ketumile Masire, who appeared before a parliamentary committee investigating allegations of corruption at BMC in 2013 to state that he had been a victim of racial preference system overseen by a white manager who treated him like a “kaffir.” The attractiveness of feedlotting has to do with BMC’s pricing policy in terms of which quality grading and pricing favours weaners compared with more mature cattle. This encourages farmers to sell their stock as weaners and, in turn, encourages the trend towards feedlotting. The report warns that in the long-term, feedlotting is not such a terrific idea.

“As more premium priced segments in export markets demand more naturally grown beef, this trend could be counterproductive in the long-run and act as a barrier to Botswana beef’s positioning as a premium brand. Moreover, producers of EU quality beef subsidize the price paid to producers of beef not eligible for export to EU, reducing the returns and incentives related to producing premium quality beef,” the report says.

In order to safeguard the sector’s future potential, the consultants recommend studying potential consequences and taking appropriate action.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper