Cooperative Models for Meat Marketing

(Shared by Hannah Scott, Manager, Ohio Cooperative Development Center, OSU South Centers)

According to recent research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, over 165,000 farms in the U.S. sold food by direct marketing in 2015. These efforts resulted in approximately $8.7 billion in sales of various products, including beef, poultry, pork, and more. Direct sales of meat represented a large number of farms – in fact, more farms sold beef than any other single product reported.

Direct marketing of meat, through outlets like farm markets, restaurants, and institutions, include a number of challenges for producers. According to focus groups with beef producers in Tennessee, these challenges include large investments of time building clientele and relationships with buyers, issues with logistics like freezer space and delivering product, seasonality or unpredictability of sales volumes, obtaining correct licensing and certifications, and challenges selling the ‘whole hog’ rather than only a few premium cuts, among others.

Cooperatives, which are owned and controlled by user-members who split benefits amongst themselves equitably, may offer some unique ways of facing the challenges with directly marketing meat.

The Buckeye Valley Beef Cooperative was formed in southern Ohio as a marketing cooperative for beef producers in a rural area. The individual members of the co-op came together to work with small grocery stores – a market that presented a challenge for individual producers to service. By coordinating and aggregating supply, the producers were able to create a larger and more consistent volume of product for the grocery store shelves.

In New York state, the Adirondack Grazers Cooperative and the Side Hill Farmers Co-op took two different approaches to developing markets for meat producers. The Adirondack Grazers Cooperative was formed for small beef producer members to market meat in nearby urban centers, including through an online grocer. The co-op aggregates member products to meet the needs of these existing markets while also allowing members to share transportation. The co-op has also increased access to a meat processing and reduced processing expenses for members. The Side Hill Farmers Co-op created their own market to sell locally produced meats with a focus on whole animal utilization in a small retail store. The craft butcher shop sells beef, pork, lamb and poultry, including aged, cured, and prepared foods.

In some instances, access to processing is a major hurdle for meat producers. The Island Grown Farmers Co-op in the Pacific Northwest came together in the early 2000’s to address just that problem. The group, along with help from a local development organization, started a mobile processing unit that travels to members’ farms to slaughter their cattle, hogs, lambs, bison, and goats. The co-op further processes the meat while the producers are responsible for marketing. The 50-mile radius covered by the co-op included about 60 members in 2015 who work together to schedule the unit in a way that ensures it is adequately utilized.