Longhorn cattle. Cowboys. Trail drives. Adventure. The images those few words conjure up in your mind is testament to the glorious and romantic history of American ranching. Arguably no other industry has made such an indelible mark on the American spirit as ranching and the business of beef production. Lost in such romantic images, however, is the fact that most of the ranchers from the trail-drive era profited handsomely when their cattle sold at the rail heads in Kansas.

Consumer demand probably wasn’t a phrase used often by trail bosses in the 1870s, but the demand for beef in the populated eastern states created the profit motive that lured cattle out of Texas. And for much of the next century ranchers were content to produce commodity beef and sell it at commodity prices. That began to change about 30 years ago when America’s poultry industry recognized opportunities to better serve consumer demand. America’s pork industry followed, and beef saw a rapid 20-year decline in demand.

The early 1990s brought warnings from industry leaders that changes must be implemented or beef would be driven off the radar screen of consumer demand. The 1991 National Beef Quality Audit provided detailed information regarding the flaws in beef and beef products. And the Strategic Alliances Field Study proved that cooperation among industry segments from ranch to retail could improve consumer acceptance and producer profitability. Those projects and others encouraged producers to stop thinking of themselves as cattle producers and start becoming beef producers.

A decade later, the beef industry finds itself on the cusp of a remarkable turnaround. Over the past two years beef demand has recorded increases, with consumers buying beef at steady to higher prices despite record-high beef supplies. That turnaround, however, is the result of more than just a change of producer mind-set. Increasing demand for beef is fueled by better quality, greater convenience and documentation that beef is a nutritious, safe and wholesome food. In short, you’ve added value to beef products to better meet consumer demand.

The battle, however, is far from over. Today, business is all about anticipating, recognizing, responding and committing to change. With that in mind, your next step is to move even closer to the consumer by becoming a “meal-solutions provider.” That means in the future you’ll need to determine what consumers want—or might want—and produce it.

You’ll still need to mend fences and thaw out frozen water tanks, but you’ll also need to produce a more precise product. And as your business changes, Drovers is committed to anticipating and responding to your changing needs. That’s why Vance Publishing Corporation’s Livestock Division—home of Drovers, Pork, Dairy Herd Management, Bovine Veterinarian, Swine Practitioner and Meat & Seafood Merchandising magazines—is now the Food Systems Group.

This change in name reflects our devotion to helping you succeed and prosper in an ever-changing environment. We’ll still provide you with current production, management and marketing information that you need. But we’ll also provide you with new information about the food system.

We have established an advisory panel of exerts from various aspects of the food system to provide insight and guidance. Each quarter we will publish an insert titled the Food System Insider, which will appear in all of our publications and will illustrate how the food system is connected and what that means to your business.

Adopting a “meal-solutions” mentality will require willingness to change, yet promises new adventures and prosperity. Not unlike your predecessors who drove cattle up the trails and shipped them to markets in Chicago.