Profile: Good Natured Family Farms Alliance
Getting to the Meat of the Matter: In-store Surveying Informs Beef Producers
Before members of a new Kansas City cooperative that wanted to market “natural” meat and other farm products began soliciting area grocery stores, they conducted a comprehensive, SARE-funded marketing research effort.
Now, the 30 members of the Good Natured Family Farms Alliance of Kansas City, Mo., know what their customers like, such as labels indicating meat is “free of additives” and fruit-flavored beef jerky, and they market accordingly.
They sell beef, free-range chicken and eggs, milk in glass bottles, farmhouse cheeses, tomatoes and other products to a grocery store chain. Their meat is labeled “all-natural,” a USDA-approved claim specifying the ranchers used no growth-enhancing hormones, sub-therapeutic antibiotics or animal by-products.
The co-op has embraced each step of the food supply chain – raising the animals, processing them at a local plant owned by one of their members and selling meat directly to stores.
But before it all began, the co-op set the stage for future success. Working with scientists at Kansas State University, they created surveys to assess preferred beef cuts both from grocery meat managers and customers, who could sample and record their impressions at an in-store computer kiosk.
“Market research allows you to identify your consumers and the products that work and don’t work,” said Diana Endicott, an organic beef and chicken rancher who has been instrumental to the co-op’s growth. “It helps you find out who wants your product and how much they’re willing to pay.” To overcome a looming obstacle, Endicott oversaw construction of a federal meat processing plant 10 miles from her Rainbow Organic Farm.
Consumers indicated they wanted to know how their meat was raised, and said they read labels to ascertain the presence of artificial additives and preservatives. Perhaps most important, those surveyed said “taste and tenderness” outweighed price as purchasing factors.
It came as no surprise that the retail meat managers surveyed preferred cuts of loin to round, rib, chuck and ground beef.
The taste test findings encouraged co-op members, most of them third- and fourth-generation ranchers, to supply cuts such as strips, ribeye, top round and top sirloin, as well as add value to lower cuts in hot dogs and beef jerky. Five years later, they deliver about 30 head of beef a week, netting about $45 to $100 more per head than the conventional price. They also see substantial premiums for chicken and eggs.
It never hurts to make a supporter out of the person customers see behind the counter, Endicott points out. “When the consumer asks what it tastes like, they can answer them.”