KANSAS CITY - In recent years, the organic grass-fed segment has really taken off on the consumer retail front, expanding from an early demand from restaurants, caterers, and medical facilities. The result has been more grass-fed products in the supermarkets and more companies getting involved in the segment.
According to IRI data from December, organic grass-fed purchases were up 7.5% year-over-year, and saw an increase of 52.1% from March through July, as consumers were looking for safer products to eat during the pandemic.
Kay Cornelius, general manager of Panorama Organic Grass-Fed Meats, Westminster, Colo., noted so many more people are interested and receptive to grass-fed and organic products today and the category is growing significantly. The problem is, there hasn’t been enough supply of US raised organic and grass-fed meat available.
“If you look at all the statistics of what consumer want, 2/3 of consumers are health driven, placing a high level of importance on the positive health benefits of products,” she said. “And, 65% say they want to buy products that do something to positively impact the environment. Panorama Organic Grass-Fed Meats fit so nicely within those important goals and are the right answers for the right time.”
Dana Ehrlich, CEO of Verde Farms, headquartered in Boston, has seen the network of grass-fed farms grow from 100 to more than 1,000 in the past 15 years, as demand for grass-fed meat and poultry continues to rise.
“Verde’s sourcing standards and ongoing product development have been in lock step with the two forces driving modern consumers’ purchase decisions year over year, particularly millennial consumers and their families: personal values, and experiential factors like convenience and on-trend flavors,” he said. “Today, the industry segment is tasked with satisfying both.”
At Weavers Way Co-Op, a member-owned grocery co-op with stores in Northwest Philadelphia and Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County, Apollo Heidelmark, meat and poultry manager, has seen grass-fed beef sales grow year over year, and only a decade ago, it wasn’t even offering the segment.
“People are interested in these grass-fed products because they are local and I personally believe folks believe because of their personal allergies to grains and such they should avoid animals who eat grains—especially GMO grains. Of course, this is a misconception but consumer behavior dictates this trend.”
Understanding pasture-raised poultry
Mike Badger, executive director of the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association, noted the correct way to identify grass-fed poultry is “pasture-raised” because poultry are omnivores, while cattle and sheep are herbivores and can survive on a grass-only diet.
He explained that pasture-raised poultry will eat a grain-based ration that often includes ingredients such as corn, soybean, alfalfa, wheat, or oats. The poultry also graze for insects, legumes, grasses and seeds in the pasture. That diversity in diet builds a more complex flavor and creates a nutrient dense product compared to non-pastured poultry.
“As we head into 2021, consumers are demanding more pastured raised and that’s catching the attention of regional and national integrators who are bringing the commercial industry’s contract grower model to pastured poultry,” Badger said. “That interest is also bringing with it an increasing amount of shelf space for pastured poultry products.”
For instance, in 2020, Perdue purchased a leading pastured poultry farm, Pasturebird, and is now raising pasture raised chickens.
A sustainable mindset
Sustainable farming methods, holistic management, and a concern for the soil, water, air and other resources allows farmers to heal the land so it’s available for future generations, and grass-fed animals are part of the equation.
Brent Jarvis of US Wellness Meats, Canton, Mo., said he’s noticed an increased interest in healthier, more nutritious foods, and holistic land managers are finding out firsthand that raising grass-fed cattle and pastured poultry is good for the land.
“The animals play an important role in building rich soils,” he said. “While they graze, they’re also composting grasses, and amending the soil. This allows life under the surface of the soil to flourish, which in turn feeds the green plants above ground. Green grasses capture atmospheric carbon and pull it into the soil where the subterranean microbial community goes to work. It’s really just a matter of letting nature do its thing.”
Grass fed meat is proven to be higher in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin E and A.
Plus, when consumers use their hard-earned dollars to support sustainable family farms, they’re helping rural communities, small family-owned businesses, and the environment.
Badger noted pastured poultry is a local first mentality, so when a consumer buys pasture raised eggs or chicken, they’re contributing to the local economy.
“Money circulates within a community because the farmer is buying supplies locally and the consumer purchases are feeding that loop,” he said. “The pandemic panic in 2020 showed customers that there is a vibrant community of independent farmers that can feed their communities. And when they needed to find them, they did. Retailers could play a role in strengthening that connection, if they wanted to.”
He noted consumers also care about pastured poultry because it ticks several boxes that are top of mind: animal welfare, nutritionally different and environmentally friendly.
Getting the word out
In the same way it’s crucial for meat brands to be innovating “value-added” products for consumers, Ehrlich noted retailers can dial in to this sensibility by asking how they can add value to the experience of the consumer in-store, either by offering the convenience of centralized merchandising, meal ideation, or education, driving attention and sales in the process.
“Consumers are often seeking out ideas to transform meat into a complete and more inspired meal, so we always recommend that retailers keep occasions in mind when merchandising meat and secondary cases, as opposed to just focusing on individual product formats,” he said. “Retailers can also display take-away information for consumers that call out key nutritional and environmental attributes of grass-fed, complete with instructions that outline how fast and easy it is to make a delicious, flavorful meal from the products displayed.”
Before COVID, in-store cooking and meal prep demos were also great ideas, and hopefully, they will return.
Verde Farms also works to be a fully integrated partner to its customers, helping them inform their merchandising and sales through data, marketing support, and educational materials for their meat department staff and consumers.
“We partner with customers on signage, promotions, and demos to drive awareness and product trial, and we provide resources like recipes, cooking demos, and images for cross-promotional use,” Ehrlich said. “In 2021, we plan to expand our efforts in this area with experiential marketing events in-store, digital campaigns, and targeted advertising.”
Jarvis noted that a rising number of consumers find grass-fed and pastured foods more nutritious and delicious, and supermarkets need to get the word out about these products and emphasize the positive qualities.
“When people try a grass-fed, grass-finished steak or burger, they’ll experience the difference in flavor,” he said. “The higher concentration of Omega-3 fats and CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acids) in grass-fed, grass-finished meats is heart and brain healthy.”
Communication therefore is key, and he recommends stores engage the customer.
“People want information,” Jarvis said. “It’s important to have a customer service team that can answer those questions Where does the food come from? How is it raised? What were they fed? What are the qualities? We encourage our customers to learn more and we do our best to use feedback to improve our products and services.”
Panorama can be adapted to a variety of diets which is why the company focused on eating more grass-fed meat in January with its Panorama Organic #GrassfedChallenge to encourage people to eat grass-fed meats three times a week for a more healthful diet.
Cornelius stated retailers should highlight that grass-fed products do more than feed a family in a healthy way. They can also positively impact the planet.
“This is the moment for retailers to have a clear message that they have a cohesive set and a destination at the meat case—whether a cooked meatball, or a steak or a hamburger for a variety of uses and recipes,” she said. “The Panorama Organic brand sets call out the environment and health effects and can make a shopper feel better about how they cook and the lasting effects of their purchase for a much bigger cause.”
Panorama is also working with its supermarket partners to spread the word about grass-fed meat on social media and in stores. For instance, it helps bring US ranchers to talk about what they are doing on their ranches and that impacts what the consumer does at the point of purchase.
“We’re also doing a new monthly newsletter to customers to support our retailers and new products, provide recipes, rancher stories and highlight promos and new partnerships,” Cornelius said. “We couldn’t be more excited to be part of the solution to provide more US organic grass-fed beef and support family ranchers and the 1 million acres of lands under our organic stewardship as we take a great brand on the west coast to a national audience to all retailers, all stores, all formats, anywhere in the US.”