A case study of a regional grass fed beef supply chain that came out this past Spring gives us a good look at how one producer addressed the issues that direct marketers in this business usually encounter. From building a brand and successfully marketing it, to having enough product to meet the demand of customers, and to being able to schedule year round processing, Ken Jaffe and Slope Farms have managed to make things work. Ken’s secret? Giving all the participants what they want, and helping them avoid things they don’t like doing.
Ken Jaffe retired from his family medicine practice in Brooklyn after purchasing 90-acre farm in the the western Catskills of New York. In a few short years, he grew his herd and created a brand “Slope Farms.” As demand for local grass fed beef grew, Jaffe knew he’d have to include others in his plan to provide healthy beef to customers. So he contracted with local farmers to buy their cattle, set up a system for processing them, and continued to grow a steady client base. It works because everyone involved is getting what they want most.
Farmers want reduced market risk and they want to sell their cattle at a good price without having to run around and find customers. By working with Jaffe, they get both. In return, they adhere to Slope Farm’s schedule, quality standards and grass fed protocols.
According to the case study, “Farmers work with Jaffe because he manages market risk by giving them a forward contract on the cattle. Jaffe also pays a premium for the grass fed beef and pays quickly.” Jaffe signs contracts at least a year in advance and pays by hanging weight, currently $4.60 per pound for an average of 450 pounds.
Steiner Packing also wants reduced risk and to work year round. He also appreciates that working with Jaffe means he only deals with one person instead of lots of individuals with different needs. In return for these things, he meets processing consistency guidelines established by Jaffe.
Nathaniel Brandon who owns the packing plant says, “The best thing about him is that he’s year round. A lot of people want to pile in here in the fall, and we try to make it work, but there are only so many spots.”
The Slope Farm supply chain also includes folks who move cattle to the processor and the product to the customer. Like the graziers and the processor, they like their predictable schedule that leads to a predictable income, and they also appreciate not having to do deal with other people.
Finally, there are the customers. Most of Slope Farm’s customers are restaurants or wholesalers. They want a high quality product with year-round, predictable delivery times. Because they get this, they are willing to buy in the quantities that Jaffe sells in – whole, half, or quarter animals. They can’t buy just the prime cuts, so they have learned how to use a lot of ground beef and even organs.
Josh Peil, the head butcher for one of Jaffe’s main customers says that they want beef to have good intramuscular marbling and a carcass weight of 700-800 pounds. Peil sasy that Jaffe’s beef is “excellent.”
Bottle Necks to Growth
As demand for Slope Farms grass fed beef continues to grow, Jaffe will have challenges to deal with. One is consistent quality and quantity. Maintaining high quality, especially through the winter is difficult. Processing capacity and costs are also limitations. As we all know, smaller processors are increasingly difficult to find, and their size makes them less able to take advantage of some of the efficiencis that larger processors have. But the good news from the current pandemic is that we’re more aware of the vulnerabilities of putting all our eggs in one processing basket and their are groups working on developing more local solutions. Finally, there is a limit to the number of customers able or willing to buy partial or whole animals. Jaffe, and the grass fed beef supply chain as a whole, will need to figure out a “boxed beef” system or increase consumer demand for partial or whole animals.
What Can You Do With This?
Are you someone who can manage relationships like Ken Jaffe does? Or do you know someone who might be just the person for the job? This Case Study gives some good detail about how to put together a successful grass fed beef marketing program. You can download the full study here and use it as a guide to grow your own, local, grass fed beef supply chain.
If you’re currently involved in a grass fed beef supply chain, this Case Study could be a helpful way of considering issues many have, and some possible solutions as well.