On April 28, Earls Restaurant Ltd. announced it would no longer source from Canadian farms any of the two million pounds of beef it sells every year, after its demand for Certified Humane produce could no longer be met by Alberta ranchers.
Certified Humane standards demand beef be raised without antibiotics, steroids, or added hormones, and slaughtered according to the specifications of an animal welfare expert.
Instead, the chain announced it would buy exclusively from a supplier in Kansas…in the U.S.A. (and Alberta collectively gasped).
The issue, said Earls, was not that Alberta does not produce ethically raised beef, but that it simply does not produce enough of it; according to Earls spokesperson Cate Simpson, it was purely a matter of volume.
— Power & Politics (@PnPCBC) 29 April 2016
But that explanation did little to quell the rising anger among Albertans, as they took to Twitter ━ that great social steam valve ━ en masse to berate the Vancouver-based chain.
#BoycottEarls Shame on Earls! Buying beef from Kansas instead of supporting and using Canadian Beef! Earls I am not supporting U rightback.
— Brenda Gallant (@blg2you) April 28, 2016
— Allison Ammeter (@AAmmeter) April 28, 2016
— Heather Forsyth (@HeatherMForsyth) April 28, 2016
This last one did however garner some Earls-positive counter-tweets (and even more that made sure to point out Ms. Forsyth’s “there” vs. “their” error).
— Ameribugger (@Ameribugger) April 29, 2016
— X – Meathead (@Awetitu) April 29, 2016
Indeed, for all the negative tweets aimed at Earls and its decision, there were also those supporting the restaurant chain ━ something the mainstream media, with its focus on the backlash, failed to point out.
— GloriousBadGuy (@GloriousBadGuy) April 28, 2016
I #supportearls !! Raise awareness for the treatment of livestock.
— Mel Elliott (@melanie_elliott) May 2, 2016
— Serena Moro (@Serena_writes) April 29, 2016
And this one just made fun of the boycott itself:
— Ryan Jespersen (@ryanjespersen) April 28, 2016
Nevertheless, Earls inevitably bowed to the backlash. On May 4, it distributed a press release titled “Alberta; Earls is listening”, that included an apology from President Mo Jessa calling the move away from Canadian beef “a mistake”.
The about-face might not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the recent Heinz/French’s affair.
When Heinz announced facility closures in Canada, French’s saw an opportunity and seized it. The company better known for its mustard moved into a Heinz-abandoned plant in Ontario, and began production using only Canadian-grown tomatoes. In the space of three months, French’s was earning more online news ketchup mentions than Heinz, something unthinkable before that Facebook post.
Perhaps Earls feared a fate similar to that of Heinz in Ontario. But instead of waiting, it decided to listen to its customers and work to reverse the damage ━ not unlike Maker’s Mark did in 2013.
Luckily for Earls, this whole debacle might have some unintended benefits.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has urged a national roundtable to “move quickly” on a certification process similar to Certified Humane. These types of standards might be easier than previously thought too, as this Twitter conversation points out that an alternative to in-feed antibiotics exists…and it’s Canadian made to boot!
@earlsrestaurant congratulations on your decision to boycott Alberta beef, Albertans will follow your lead by boycotting Earls
— Michael Thomlinson (@miket136) April 28, 2016
— Jeremy K Sellors (@jksellors) April 28, 2016
Canadian company Avivagen Inc. has developed a natural alternative to antibiotics, designed to maintain the efficiency of current farming methods while ensuring human health is not compromised.
If Notley’s urge is heard, if antibiotics can be replaced. And if the Canadian and global cattle industry can grow stronger as a result, one day we might look back on Earls’ “gaffe” as the catalyst to it all.
Who knows…maybe that’s what they’ve had in mind the whole time. We call that the PR long game.