I’ve known and worked with Arizona Beef Council Executive Director Lauren Maehling as long as she’s been with the Council and as long as I’ve been with Arizona Farm Bureau. Of course, most of this interaction relates to maximizing those opportunities when we can cross-pollinate our communications and marketing efforts or simply help each other stay informed in our respective areas. I lean heavily on Maehling when I want to report on beef nutrition and sustainability. And, she’s always been a gracious guest on Talk to a Farmer/Rancher Friday. She is my favorite “beef foodie!”


Recognizing the Arizona Beef Council as my source for a video on beef industry conservation practices we produced a few years ago, that video on our YouTube channel has garnered more than 12,000 views. She and I have concluded that the public loves knowing how farmers and ranchers contribute to the environment. So our work continues. 


The Arizona Beef Council and Arizona Farm Bureau also partner on the educational side as well which is explained in a bit more detail further in this article. Ultimately, as long as resources are available, no stone is left unturned as the saying goes. 


While we may sometimes feel in the industry that consumers are not hearing our agriculture story, it’s not for lack of trying or because we lack a plan. As you’ll see from this article the strategy to inform and educate the consumer about the nutritional benefits of beef is quite sophisticated, tested and constantly measured. My personal opinion is that our biggest challenge is competing for the consumer’s attention. Our resources do exist. 


Maehling grew up on her family’s beef cattle ranch in Los Alamos on the Central Coast of California. She received her Bachelor of Science Degree from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo with a degree in Animal Science, emphasis in Agricultural Business, and a minor in Rangeland Resource Management.  As executive director of the Arizona Beef Council, Maehling enjoys serving Arizona’s cattlemen and women in promoting beef to Arizona consumers. She’s a mom of two toddlers, a foodie, and enjoys sending snail mail [Maehling is only telling part of the story: she creates beautiful calligraphy; she crafted her calligraphy in the signature pages of two bibles I gave away as gifts].


Arizona Agriculture: May is National Beef Month. As executive director for the Arizona Beef Council, you possess plenty of insights on this celebration. Give us a bit of history behind the designation.

Maehling: I’m not sure when Beef Month started because every month is Beef Month for us! It’s a time when most of the country is breaking out their grills and celebrating the end of cold weather -- though it’s always grilling season in Arizona allowing us to take advantage of the beautiful weather a lot earlier in the year. We certainly encourage the extra celebrating with beef all month. If anything, it puts an extra spotlight on beef’s versatility from grilling to slow cooking, its beneficial nutrient package to fuel bodies all year long, and highlights the work that cattlemen and women put into raising high-quality beef while caring for the land.

Arizona Agriculture: Talk about the Arizona Beef Council’s outreach and marketing efforts on behalf of our Arizona beef industry.

Maehling: The Arizona Beef Council (ABC) is the grassroots entity that administers and implements the Beef Checkoff Program (the “Beef Checkoff”) in Arizona. With oversight from the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and the United States Department of Agriculture, the Beef Checkoff implements promotion, research, consumer information, industry information, foreign marketing, and producer communications.

The nature of the Beef Checkoff is that when there are fewer cattle, there are fewer dollars collected to promote beef. Arizona is a smaller cattle state to begin with, especially in comparison to our growing human population (the latest numbers say 970,000 head of cattle1 and nearing 7.5 million humans2).

The ABC has built partnerships with state beef councils in high-cattle states, with more cattle than consumers, who want to allocate some of their budgets to extend beef promotion in high-population states. The Iowa Beef Industry Council, Nebraska, and Kansas Beef Councils have generously funded advertising campaigns, nutrition outreach, e-commerce retail campaigns, and Gate to Plate Tours in Arizona. It’s thanks to these grants and others that we can implement impactful programs.

In the education realm, we focus on “training the trainer.” ABC’s Beef Gate to Plate Tours has become part of the curriculum for the state’s registered dietician credentialing courses, hosting annual immersive tours for Arizona State University, University of Arizona, Northern Arizona University and Maricopa Country’s nutrition graduate students. We also host the Arizona Culinary Institute for a tour and beef experience. Each summer, ABC presents to culinary teachers at the Arizona Career and Technical Education Conference, providing lesson plan inspiration and tools that will reach their 150 students on average, each, annually. And, with Arizona Farm Bureau’s Ag in the Classroom and our other ag groups, help coordinate the Arizona Agriculture Institutes for teachers.

In the nutrition realm, we continue to work with the Arizona Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which is the state association for nutrition professionals. Two new nutrition audiences are the Arizona Nurses Association and the School Nutrition Association of Arizona, to position the Beef Checkoff as the go-to for factual beef information and resources.

Arizona Agriculture: You’re originally from California, but have become fully integrated into Arizona and certainly our state’s beef industry. What sets Arizona’s beef industry apart from other states’ beef industry? Any special differentiators?

Maehling: The ABC Board prioritizes data so that by better understanding our audience (Arizona consumers), we can build focused messaging and programs. For four years, we have participated in a survey of Arizona consumers that compares our state’s consumer sentiment to national sentiment as it relates to beef consumption, knowledge of beef production, protein consideration factors, beef attributes, industry trust, and more. This has given us a better understanding of what factors might be unique to Arizona.

In most categories, Arizona is on par with what consumers think about beef nationally. However, it’s been interesting to see how Arizona’s changing demographic is reflected in this state survey, with more consumers over time claiming less knowledge about how cattle are raised compared to the national average. There are many factors to consider, but new residents from other states could be contributing (hard to admit as a 9th-generation Californian).

So, I do think our evolving demographic in Arizona offers opportunities to continue to highlight beef’s important role in the diet AND boost general knowledge of how cattle are raised and the people involved in the industry.

Using that data and with the help of other beef councils for funding, we’ve built large campaigns to implement new technologies in advertising to reach not only Arizona residents but also our many winter and spring visitors. For the second year in a row, from February to June, beef ads and commercials have been placed on YouTube videos, Google searches, audio streaming, connected TV (CTV), articles on popular websites, and billboards across Phoenix. Last year’s campaign garnered more than 8.3 million impressions during Spring Training. This year’s billboards, both digital and traditional, were placed in high-traffic areas north and south of State Farm Stadium, downtown Phoenix, Tempe, and along the I-10 in Eloy, all during Spring Training, spring breaks, and while Phoenix hosted the NCAA Men’s Final Four.

New this year are beef commercials on CTV (devices that are connected to the internet and allow viewers to stream shows, videos, music and browse the web), shown in targeted intervals to Arizona consumers during popular events, including the Waste Management Open. During the popular golf tournament in Scottsdale, Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner. commercials were placed across CTV channels that carried the event, delivering over 5,800 video views. Additional targeting took place during March Madness NCAA basketball. Meanwhile, commercials are airing across a wide variety of popular and premium CTV channels and services, including the Big Ten Network, Bloomberg Media, CBS, Disney, Disney+, Hallmark, Pluto, Tubi, AMC Network, A&E, Discovery+, Warner Bros, Fox News/Fox Business, Pluto TV and Paramount +, FuboTV and Sling.

So, long story long, there is plentiful opportunity for promotion in Arizona, and we’re looking at all the ways we can be most impactful while efficiently stewarding our limited budget.

Arizona Agriculture: How is the Beef Council communicating with the consumer when it comes to the inflationary era we’re in the thick of today?

Maehling: Convenience and versatility are two of beef’s top attributes that the Beef Checkoff will continue to highlight. Consistently, consumer market research confirms that taste and value (both nutritionally and for the price) are the top considerations in choosing a protein, followed closely by versatility for many types of meals. Beef lends itself well to being center-of-plate or an ingredient in many dishes. As consumers look for ways to stretch their food dollars, we have recipe categories for everything from Beef on a Budget and Steak Swaps to Cook Once, Dine Twice and Meals with Leftover Beef. There truly is a beef option for everyone!

Last summer, with funding support from the Iowa Beef Industry Council, ABC extended national e-commerce campaigns with two major retailers, featuring digital ads on the stores’ websites and apps, as well as popular consumer lifestyle sites, that drove traffic to the retailers’ fresh beef pages where shoppers could add beef to their carts. The summer grilling campaign directly contributed to a 10.9% lift in beef sales, equaling an incremental return on investment of $65 for every $1 spent on ad placement. The other retailer’s back-to-school campaign reported an attributable return on investment of $206.75 for every $1 spent on ad placement. Between both campaigns, 14 and 16 percent of shoppers who bought beef had not purchased beef in the prior 12 months. 

It’s campaigns like these, made possible by strong state-to-state and state-national partnerships, that keep beef top-of-mind during key times when shoppers make meal-time decisions, especially when there is so much competition for consumers’ dollars.

Arizona Agriculture: Talk about the industry’s sustainability efforts in the last few decades and the goals for the future.

Maehling: Sustainability takes on so many forms, and we often think of it in three areas: environmental, social and economic. Some under-appreciated components of those, I think, are in the stories of beef quality and community impact.

Beef quality: this isn’t our grandparents’ beef. Cattlemen and women have made incredible strides in responding to consumer demand for high-quality and consistent beef, raising cattle that meet that expectation. When I was in college, I remember the national average of cattle grading prime was 2 percent. Now, 11 to 12 percent 3 is the norm. The industry, as a whole, has improved cattle genetics, beef quality, feeding practices, and trimming to produce more consistent beef that consumers love. Still, if consumers are looking for lean and tender – that’s an option. AND, while we are experiencing smaller national cattle herds, more beef is being raised per animal – 60 percent more since 1961, while reducing emissions per pound of beef by more than 40 percent4.

Community impact: Sustainability research and conversations often focus on environmental sustainability, but there are many factors to a “sustainable” beef industry. A current Beef Checkoff-funded project is evaluating the social and economic factors of raising beef in the region and nation, especially in light of changes in our national cow herd, where cattle are located, factors that affect ranching, raising cattle in certain areas, and more. Interviews were recently conducted in Arizona. I’m looking forward to the published report.

Editor’s Note: We’ll have to connect with Maehling once the report is out and ask her for an overview. This article originally appeared in the May 2024 issue of Arizona Agriculture