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Producer Blog: Building a brand: What we learned from jumping into the direct-marketing beef business

Theo Scholze for Progressive Dairy Published on 01 November 2021

In 2015, we decided to try to raise and sell beef from our dairy. We thought it would be a great way to utilize some empty pastures, generate some extra revenue/margin and utilize refusals from our dairy cows, as well.

Since there is an endless array of people who sell whole, halves and quarters of beef, we thought we would differentiate by allowing people to buy small quantities of beef that we would deliver to their door, thus allowing them to get fresh beef every month or so without needing a large chest freezer. Everybody (including us) thought it was a great idea, and it would be laughably easy.

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The timing of this adventure couldn’t have been worse as milk prices were in the process of a downturn, and suddenly we had animals we needed to carry that were not going to generate any revenue for 18 months. We soon realized it wasn’t just feed cost, it was labour to care for them, overhead costs, processing cost, licensing cost, advertising cost, etc.

Due to the relatively isolated area we live in, we wanted internet sales to be our primary sales avenue. We soon realized we were competing with well-funded competitors with a budget for targeted online advertising. Also, attending events, farmers markets and festivals are great ways to see people and let them know about your products, but they also take a lot of time, and sales can be highly variable.

Once we had product available, it was startling to realize how easy it is to sell tenderloins, ribeyes, New York strip and T-bones, as well as about a third of our ground beef. What is more difficult are roasts, organ meat, tongue and oxtail, so more time has to be spent in finding markets for those cuts.

The reality is that you need to be able to market 10-15 animals a month for it to be a business model that is going to be self-supportive.

We are now entering year four of having a salable product, and the realization has hit that it is too much work for us to try and do by ourselves. So when a longtime customer reached out to us and wanted to be part of the business – to help with website development and marketing – we jumped at the opportunity. This change is already paying dividends as sales are up, margins are increasing, and we can concentrate on raising the animals and getting them delivered to customers.

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In conclusion, while selling beef sounds like an easy way to make some extra money on the farm, it is a longer, harder journey to profitability than one thinks. Take the time to visit with others who have tried it, and make sure you calculate the many risks and pitfalls. It has been an interesting journey for us, and I have enjoyed it despite all the stress. I am always available to chat if you want. end mark

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