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Maybe You Shouldn’t Tell Folks You’ve Got Grass-fed Animals

By   /  September 16, 2013  /  8 Comments

Consumers DO want your product. It’s just that many don’t really understand what different terms mean. Here’s what some researchers and focus groups tell us about what is important to our customers and how to tell the story of our product.

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You remember Romeo and Juliet, don’t you?  When her father heard the name of the man she loved, she knew he’d be angry.  So in a fit of “marketing” Juliet said to her sweetheart”

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet…
…Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.”

Just as Romeo thought it was a good idea to give up his name for the sake of obtaining his true love, you might consider a new name for your product based on some information researchers have found about what customers prefer when thinking about pasture-based meat.

When Ady Voltedge, a firm specializing in branding, ran focus groups to find out more about consumer attitudes and interest in grass fed products, they learned that “grass-fed” conjured up images of confined cattle being fed grass.  Participants preferred the term “pasture-grazed” because to them it presented an image of cows harvesting their own feed on pasture.  When I told a friend what focus group participants thought about the term “grass fed” she said, “Well, obviously, those were uninformed people!  Everyone knows what grass fed means!”

MarkTwainQuoteActually, the people in the focus group were picked because they were informed consumers.  All of them had an interest in and experience with local, pasture-based, artisanal foods.  They were considered to be “opinion leaders” or “cutting edge buyers” and the assumption was that their answers would give us an idea of future trends. What they told researchers is that pasture fed and grass fed rank 3.26 and 3.23 respectively on an attractiveness scale from 1 to 5 (five being the best).  The term “Pasture grazed” hit 4.9.  Then participants described the ideas they linked with “pasture grazed” saying that it is “healthy for cows and people,” “sustainable,” “natural” and “chemical free.”  Aspects of the pasture grazed concept that they found least attractive were the scientific background and the “healthy fats” concept.

These focus group results were part of a larger project conducted from 2009 – 2012 by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection and their partners.  In addition to looking at consumers, they also talked with restaurateurs and distributors and retailers.  What they learned is that both groups are interested in products for both flavor and the stories behind them.  Smaller scale distributors said that the stories sell the product.

When the name of your product paints a picture in the customer’s mind, half the story is told.  So what can you add that will tell an even more compelling story?  Michigan researchers found that when it comes to deciding to buy pasture-based products customers want a product that is:

  • Humanely raised
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Produced without supplemental antibiotics or hormones

When asked, these folks agreed that pasture raised products were healthier for people and said they were willing to pay higher prices to obtain this meat.  They were less interested in whether the product was local, or in knowing the farmer.

PeterDruckerQuoteIf you’re shaking your head at this point, thinking “What do researchers know?” all I can say is really, they know nothing, and that’s why they ask questions of our potential customers.  Then they give their findings to us and we can decide what to do with the information.  As you consider that information, consider this as well: you know that “Happy Cows Come  from California” campaign?  The marketers paid attention to what people wanted, and told them a story that went with that.  It turns out that folks have seen that commercial so many times that now the majority of people believe that most dairy cows graze in pastures.

I’d love to hear what you think and what else you’d like to know about your customer as you market your products.  And will you, like Romeo say:

“I take thee at thy word:
Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized;
Henceforth I never will be Romeo Grass fed.”


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About the author

Publisher, Editor and Author

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.


  1. Kirby says:

    How about “free range”. It works for chicken dosen’t it.

  2. Josh says:

    We were using the term “pastured” quite a bit more than grass-fed, but the unanticipated effect of using “pastured” is that many consumers were hearing or reading it as “pasteurized.” Not quite the same! “Pasture-grazed” or similar should help with that misconception – glad to have seen it!

    • suzie says:

      It’s because “pasture Grazed” is an active, taking verb, where as “grass fed” is a passive, receiving verb. The cow has to actively graze, but can easily be handed grass to eat.

  3. Kristin says:

    Thank you for this. I would love to see info from other parts of the country. I’m in the southeast and involved with a couple local WAPF groups and there is a great deal of confusion on what constitutes grass fed.

    And there is more than just a lifetime on grass. I think how the animals are managed on grass (mob grazing/frequent rotational grazing vs. continuous grazing) is a critical educating point, if not so much marketing.

  4. Rick says:

    Kathy –

    Thanks for sharing the info from Wisconsin and Michigan – I hope to be able to find more details from their studies on the web.

    I work closely with several “grassfed” producers and the key to their success (after rainfall) is marketing a perception. Shaping their production system and product to fit the expectation of their customers.

    Among all the available beef products (traditional grain fed, natural, grassfed, organic) I submit that grassfed may be the most variable – in terms of preharvest production systems and finished products. I see everything from fat, 7-10 month old fresh-weaned calves to old ‘retiring’ cows being marketed as grassfed beef. True, the American Grassfed Association has well defined standards, but not all ‘grassfed’ producers adhere to them.

  5. Mike Jones says:


    Keith has a good point. Here at Beaver Creek Farm the animals spend their whole life (except for a few hours a year when we vaccinate and one hour ride to harvest humanely) grazing fresh forage on pasture.

    How about “Whole life fresh pasture grazed” or “Whole life Grazed”?


  6. Keith Dehaan says:


    I have a problem with any grass-fed, pasture-grazed words when it can qualify for “any point during the animal’s lifetime”, which qualifies most cattle. I prefer the words grass, pasture, or forage “finished”.


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