In the era of COVID-19, the “buy local” movement has become even more prevalent. As everyday staples such as meat products appear to be in short supply at grocery stores, consumers are gaining further interest in buying directly from the source. While the farm-to-table movement has been gaining popularity over the years for a multitude of reasons, it has been further amplified by a desire for individuals to “stock up” on food resources.
With an even greater demand for local beef, many producers are beginning to harvest and sell their products locally. Direct marketing your beef is a great opportunity to contribute to your local community and can be quite profitable; however, there are a few factors to consider before jumping in.
Whether you’re a cow-calf producer feeding out a few of your calves to send to the local meat packing plant, a cattle feeder getting a meat processing license and harvesting animals on-site for sale, or any number of other combinations, the No. 1 place to start is understanding your state’s regulations on inspection and licensing. In general:
- All meat that has been processed must be inspected in order to be sold. Keep in mind, federally inspected meat is able to be sold across state lines. State-inspected products are confined to intrastate commerce unless the plant at which they were processed is part of the Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) Program, which is the equivalent of being federally inspected.
- Some producers may simply be interested in only selling quarters and halves, in which case custom-exempt harvesting is an option. Custom-exempt products are marked “not for sale,” meaning the consumer must purchase a percentage of the live animal from the producer and pay the packer accordingly. This is a great option for mitigating the struggle of managing inventory of specific cuts.
- If you wish to harvest animals on-site, check with your state guidelines on obtaining proper permitting, inspection and processing regulations.
With an understanding of the different inspection types vs. custom-exempt harvesting, you can search for a meat packing plant in your area that meets your needs. Keep in mind even many small, local plants may have a months’-long waiting list due to the recent pandemic. When determining where to have your animals processed it is important to consider:
- Many states have a searchable database. Locate potential plants near you and call for a list of services they provide. Keep in mind, not all plants are interested or capable of third-party processing.
- This is a business agreement, find a plant that is able to provide the services you desire and envision for your products. For example, not all plants are capable of creating smoked products such as sausages.
- Is there locker space available at the plant or do you need to store your own products? Chest freezers are currently out of stock in many areas. Unless you already have plenty of storage space, consider finding a plant that has storage capability.
After you’ve selected a suitable packing plant, you need to consider labeling for your products. All labels must be approved at the chosen establishment and be applied to the product there, as well. Understand that any product claims made on the label (ex. organic, grass fed, etc.) must be able to be proven. No other labels can be added later, so be aware of the plant’s labeling capabilities.
You’re ready to sell your product! Now, where to begin? Direct marketing can seem intimidating, but you just have to be willing to put in the work:
- Start locally. Let family and friends know you have beef available – think neighbors, co-workers, church friends, etc.
- Utilize social media. Whether posting on your personal page or your ranch’s social media, utilize this free form of advertisement.
- Look into having a booth at local farmer’s markets if they are currently operating in your area.
- Be prepared to educate potential customers about your product. People will more than likely be interested in learning about your business and how the animals were raised. If selling quarters or halves, be willing to help customers communicate to the packer what cuts they are desiring and explain to them how much freezer space they will need.
- If selling individual cuts, consider selling bundles with high- and low-value cuts to help balance extra inventory.
- Above all, be genuine and receptive toward new customers. Great customer service will go a long way.
There’s no time like the present to get started selling your beef locally. The farm-to-table movement is in full force as consumers strive to support local businesses while also stocking their freezers. With proper planning and initiative, you can be prosperous while providing consumers with a unique, personal buying experience.
Need help getting the word out about your farm-to-table product? BluePrint Media can help. Contact our team here.
Emily grew up in rural Connecticut with a passion for agriculture. She attended Texas A&M University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science and a master’s degree in ruminant nutrition. Emily has joined the BluePrint team as a designer and feature writer after previously working in feed sales and as the marketing manager for a large ranching operation in central Texas. Emily and her husband look forward to raising their family in the agricultural community they both love.