Becoming a mega-beef business: The van Reenen story
Beefmaster PTY Ltd, a leading specialist producer of quality beef products, started out as small cattle feeding business in 1965 by Lourie van Reenen. Today, a family-run operation in the hands of Lourie’s sons Louw and Roelie van Reenen, it is the third largest producer of beef products in South Africa. What does it take to become a resilient business in the beef industry?
The answer, says Roelie van Reenen, Supply Chain Manager at Beefmaster, is cutting-edge innovation, combined with traditional family values.
Beefmaster is involved in the entire value chain, from rearing and farming cattle to delivering meat-based products to customers. This requires many fundamentals that are not traditionally agricultural, such as fleet management of road trucks, earth-moving equipment, cattle health and feed, meat cutting and packaging, and fully-equipped workshops.
Van Reenen says that operating in the agriculture sector can be tough, as there are factors outside of one’s control that impact the business. The only way to overcome these challenges is to be prepared, yet adaptable and flexible.
“For us, this means diversifying to hedge against tough times. For example, we believe that all cattle breeds have the potential to deliver exceptional beef products. This allows us to work with both establish and emerging cattle farmers, regardless of the breed of cattle with which they farm. There is a common misperception that we only work with farmers who farm with Beefmaster cattle, but this is not the case.”
Examples of other breeds of cattle that the brand accepts include Bonsmara, Brahman, Angus, Hereford, Simmental, Afrikaner, Nguni, Holstein-Friesian, as well as any cross-breed of these cattle, amongst others.
“We forge strong relationships with both established and emerging farmers to access a variety of cattle, regardless of breed, helping farmers boost the quality and sustainability of their herds by offering training, mentorship programmes and offtake agreements, amongst others,” says van Reenen.
He adds that at the core of Beefmaster’s success is its relationships with all of its stakeholders.
“We have been a member of the South African Feedlot Association for close on three decades, meaning that we act as an industry voice to the farmers with whom we have a relationship, as we have their business interests at heart.”
This further adds to Beefmaster helping farmers access new markets and solutions that provide stability and peace of mind.
“Our family-led business helps us to understand family-run cattle farm operations. What you do is not simply a job – it is your way of life. So family gatherings and conversations are fuelled by passionate discussions, and client relationships don’t simply exist only between business hours.”
He adds that treating customers and employees as family has helped define the business.
“At Beefmaster we work together as one big team. This has played a major role in building our small-scale business into a successful corporation. Our employees are part of our family. We take great pride in their achievements and work with them to highlight how every task adds to the bigger picture. We have established a great culture inside the business.”
And how is Beefmaster able provide cutting-edge innovation, and remain true to its commitment to tradition?
“There is a wealth of knowledge and experience that has been passed through the generations, but we need to keep asking critical questions and analyse how we can do things better. We’ve seen great success with new technology and learnt from global best practice. Being open to improving is how we are able to offer better and efficient solutions to farmers and customers alike.”
Beefmaster’s state-of-the-art technology, which allows the company to customise and “produce to order” for some of the biggest players in the food industry, tackles the dual challenge of increased competition, and how to produce the best possible beef cost-effectively.
Quality control and maintaining the highest health and safety standards are top priority, and Beefmaster enforces rigorous processes that have earned the company FSSC 22000 food safety certification, recognised by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). As a major supplier to fast food chain McDonald’s, Beefmaster is the South African partner to pass that company’s stringent animal health and welfare audits consecutively for the past decade, ensuring both healthy animals and high-quality meat products.
Van Reenen says that the company’s future vision is to see more farmers reach the scale and high-quality herd standards required to take advantage of opportunities created by the beef industry.
“By working together we can open the door for good beef producers to increase their profitability, resulting in improved employment rates and the growth in our economy,” concludes van Reenen.