Collaboration Helps Expand the Market for Pasture-Raised Meats

by firsthandfoods on January 28, 2014

New York Times columnist, Stephanie Strom, hit the nail on head when she wrote, “Selling the whole hog is still a tough market for farmers raising pastured pigs.” Her article highlights the challenges across the supply chain, including the intensive management required for raising hogs outdoors, limited slaughter and processing capacity, the need to find a market for all parts of the animal, and higher price points making it hard for many buyers to justify.

We developed Firsthand Foods as a means of helping small-scale livestock producers in North Carolina access local market opportunities.  It is next to impossible for any individual producer to have enough volume of meat to provide high volume food service or retail customers.  And for chefs and meat market managers, it is challenging to maintain relationships with numerous farmers in order to secure a steady supply.   So, we work in the middle of the supply chain, purchasing whole animals from farmers, coordinating slaughter and processing, and taking on the challenge of marketing and distributing to the end buyer.

We attribute our success in expanding sales and growing the market for pasture-raised pork in North Carolina to a unique set of partnerships that allow us to focus most of our energy on sales and marketing.  Our hogs come directly from the NC Natural Hog Growers Association and we work together on a weekly basis to coordinate scheduling of animal deliveries and over a longer time horizon to improve pork quality.   We count on the audit services of Animal Welfare Approved to inspect each farm annually and ensure humane practices are implemented.

Our hogs are slaughtered and made into various meat products by Acre Station Meat Farm, a second-generation butcher facility in Beaufort County.  We benefit from shared warehouse space leased from Eastern Carolina Organics in Durham.  And we partner with existing distribution companies (e.g., Simply Fresh and Foster-Caviness), instead of owning our own trucks.  And, of course, none of this would be possible without committed customers who are willing to pay significantly more for pasture-raised products.

It’s the partnerships that make expanding the market worthwhile.  The benefits of collaboration reach back down the supply chain and include rural communities and businesses that on their own would not be able to capitalize on the growing consumer demand for pasture-raised meats.


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