Opportunities in grass finishing beef Part 2: The various methods that exist for marketing

Defining grass finishing is easy; marketing may not be so easy, but it’s another important part in the process.

In the last “Opportunities in grass finishing beef” article posted on Michigan State University (MSU) Extension News, we focused on defining what grass or forage finished was. In this article, I want to move into the various methods that exist for marketing your forage or grass finished beef. I would also like to dive into the local food models for more understanding on that subject.

Here is a list of the various ways that you can market your grass-finished beef:

  • Famers Markets
  • CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)
  • Regional Food Hubs
  • Directly off the farm via:
    • Wholes or halves etc.
    • Farm store front
  • Internet marketing
  • White tablecloth restaurants
  • Mid-grade restaurants
  • Health food stores

There are a growing number of farmers markets in Michigan, and they can offer a great way for you to connect with the public, this is especially true if you are new to marketing. I would suggest visiting a few of them first and talking and visiting with the vendors that seem to have a great layout to their booth, they will most likely be the seasoned marketers and have a fair amount of traffic too.  To view a list of farmers markets in Michigan, visit the Michigan Farmers Market Association website.

CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) have also become a popular way for marketing not only grass finished beef, but farm produce as well. While CSA operations are probably more geared toward the produce market, they can be utilized as an outlet for beef, if set up correctly. A CSA is defined by the USDA as: "A community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community’s farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Members or shareholders of the farm or garden pledge in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and farmer’s salary. In return, they receive shares in the farm’s bounty throughout the growing season, as well as satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land. Members also share in risks, including poor harvest due to unfavorable weather or pests.”

Regional Food Hubs are another potential method for you to market your grass-finished beef. According to the USDA, a food hub is: “A centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products.”

It’s something like a farmers market, except it’s:

  • Ongoing, as opposed to the seasonal operation of many farmers markets
  • Farmers can sometimes store, and process their items there.

In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder recently proposed a one-time amount of $1.5 million be put towards regional food hubs. The actual wording is: “One-time funding of $1.5 million is recommended to allow the department to leverage federal and industry support to provide grants to five regional food hubs across the state resulting in new market opportunities for Michigan producers and increased fresh and healthy food for Michigan residents. These resources will also assist in implementing new federal Food Safety Modernization Act requirements through producer training, inspections and testing. The department will assist owners of food producing animals with the proper use of antibiotics to prevent animal disease while minimizing antibiotics entering the food supply and assure a safe and wholesome food supply through laboratory testing validation. (MDARD metric RD-03)”

All of these methods have their pros and cons and one or all of them may work for you. Most of the time farmers are great at producing a marketable product, but not so great at the actual marketing part. The key is to identify the person in your operation that can capitalize on the marketing side, and then turn them loose!

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