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Friday, June 18 2021

Twenty-seven years of frustration selling grass-finished beef

I started selling grass-finished beef in 1994 for a company that’s no longer in business. Since then, I’ve sold grass-finished beef for several other programs as a broker, trader and as a distributor that buys and sells grass-finished beef.

I use the term ‘grass-finished’ and not ‘grass-fed,’ because I’m talking about beef that has never been in a feed lot. Many in the beef community say that most fed beef can be called ‘grass-fed,’ because for most of the animal’s life they are eating grass in pastures.

I know many restaurants that sell grain-fed beef on their menus, while promoting it as ‘grass-fed’ beef, and when pressed, the chef uses this vague ‘grass-fed’ definition. “All beef is grass-fed,” is a common refrain you will hear.

It’s for this reason that many grass-finished brands use both ‘grass-fed’ and ‘grass-finished’ in their product descriptions, to distinguish their product from some misleading labels.

I certainly do appreciate and understand the fact that many grass-finished brands and producers are trying to differentiate their beef from the conventional grain-fed beef programs. Some of these brands like to tout their sustainable ranch story, their low-impact environmental footprint, and even their superior nutritionals compared to grain-fed beef with increased Omega 3 and 6 levels (even though, with careful comparison, you’ll see the differences in nutritionals are miniscule).

Last year I had some great success with the keto diet. During my investigation of keto and paleo diets, I listened to many podcasts by nutritionists, doctors and others in health care that all promote grass-finished beef over grain-fed beef. For some it’s the nutritionals, for others it’s the animal’s quality of life, and for the majority, they just don’t approve of the saturated fats that develop in grain-fed beef that comes from GMO corn in feedlots. Grass-finished beef has quite a following these days in the keto and paleo worlds.

But my experience for nearly three decades of promoting grass-finished beef has remained largely frustrating. Here’s my short list of obstacles:

  1. The quality of grass-finished beef is inconsistent from one week to the next, even from the same program.
  2. Many of the programs aren’t really 100% grass-finished when you start investigating the claims and visiting the ranches to see what the animals are eating.
  3. Much of the grass-finished beef is imported, but is then cut into steaks or ground here in the U.S., so it then carries the ‘Product of USA’ claim. These lower price points obtained by importing beef from South America, Australia and New Zealand ruin the price structure needed to support true USA bred, born and raised programs that have to compete with these imports that are often disguised as domestic.
  4. Some USA produced grass-finished beef comes from culled dairy cows that are fed corn or corn husks most of their lives, yet they are being sold as ‘grass-finished.’

For those of you in sales that, like myself, ‘drag the bag’ every day in the trenches, providing samples for restaurants and retailers, you can certainly understand the time, energy and costs involved with sampling. It’s been very hard to sell grass-finished beef because the product is so inconsistent that you never really know what the sample in your bag is going to taste like during a cutting.

Even when I’ve had success getting grass-finished beef into restaurants and smaller independent retailers, the product doesn’t stay on the menu or in the retail case long. There’s just too much variation from week to week on the product quality, and it doesn’t maintain its sales appeal with adequate staying power.

Posted by: Greg Bloom AT 06:25 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email