Cost vs. Return for Grass-Fed Beef

By Mark Wilhelms

Something we often hear in our industry is concern surrounding the cost of purchasing locally-pastured, grass-fed beef. Yes, it is more expensive but there are good reasons why. In the cattle industry, the speed at which an animal can be fattened is extremely important. Cattle confined to feedlots fatten in a much shorter length of time, however it’s at the expense of the health and comfort of the animal. Grass-fattened cattle isn’t ready for slaughter until the ages of 18-24 months of age, whereas feedlot cattle is ready around 12 months. In order to allow grass-fed cattle to graze comfortably for the length of time necessary to reach proper fattening stage, it requires more land which, in turn, raises costs. The return is all-natural, antibiotic-free meat jam-packed with omega-3s, a huge fighter of heart disease and cancer.

According to a recent article published by Allen Williams, Ph.D and president of LMC, LLC, a consulting firm specializing in farm and food company sustainability and profitability, consumers rated “taste” as the most highly rated attribute when it comes to purchasing meat. Williams emphasizes there can be wide variations in the taste of grass-fed beef. Since taste is highly rated, it is important for producers to pay particular attention to factors that can create flavors.

“Well finished, high quality grass-fed beef typically produces an outstanding robust beef flavor that many chefs and consumers prefer,” says Williams. “Processing, further processing, cold storage and distribution are all critical factors in being able to deliver a quality product at a price range that works for customers. We have to identify and partner with distributors who can effectively market and deliver our products cost effectively and efficiently.”

Following the “Mad Cow” frenzy of 2003, demand for grass-fed beef surged. The second surge happened during the economic recession from 2008-2010. Williams explains that meat industry pundits predicted the demand for specialty meat products, like grass-fed beef would take a huge hit with “consumers flocking back to cheaper commodity beef.” The opposite happened – consumer demand for grass-fed beef surged once again and opened up more new market channels. According to data compiled by the Wallace Center of the Winrock Foundation, retail sales of domestically produced grass-fed beef topped $400 million in 2013, compared to less than $5 million on 1998. The grass-fed beef sector has grown exponentially over the last decade and is not expected to slow anytime soon.

This is something we understand very well at Red Meat Market. We are fortunate to be partnered with an incredible network of distributors that allow us to easily source, package and deliver local, sustainable, all natural meat in one placeWe are supporting this culture by offering local meat from local people while making a difference in the way we treat our animals, support the land and live full-healthy lives.