By Micah Cheek
Jeanie Alderson is trying to solve a puzzle that is still confounding many of the country’s alternative meat producers: Getting her meats from her ranch to customers’ tables. Large meat processors cannot process a small farm’s meats profitably, and small meat processors are in short supply.
“We have the best grass, the best country and the best cattle, but we’re far away from everyone,” says Alderson. The Montana rancher and co-owner of Omega Beef raises grass-fed and –finished wagyu beef, to the tune of 30 to 40 carcasses a year. “The places where big agribusiness is happening, those processors won’t even look at us,” says Alderson. This size of production constitutes a fraction of what a major slaughter house would process in a year, far too little for a larger slaughter house to cut at a profit. The nearest USDA-inspected processor that will work in Omega Beef’s volumes is Quality Meats of Montana, approximately three hours away. This long drive through the Montana steppelands, combined with deliveries after processing, takes a large cut of the company’s profit margin. Unfortunately, slaughtering at an uninspected processor isn’t an option. Going without the USDA stamp would mean losing the business of their retailers, their distributor and any out-of-state customers. “Basically the only people we would be able to sell to would be individual customers in Montana,” says Alderson.
The issue of finding size appropriate processors is not limited to beef. Les Miller, Food Producer at Wheatstem Meadows Farms in South Dakota, has encountered difficulties with pork and chicken as well. Miller has found a pork processor within 50 miles, but the expansion of his business is beginning to push the processor’s capacity. Miller is also raising chickens, but can’t find a facility to slaughter them in. “That’s the problem I’m facing with the broilers,” Miller says. “The closest [processor] I could find was in Minnesota. There’s nothing in South Dakota.” Miller is legally allowed to slaughter chickens in a limited capacity without an inspected facility, but that poultry can’t be sold across state lines. “Under federal law I can do 1,000 [per year], but it still isn’t like the USDA certification,” says Miller.
Groups like the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, a network of agricultural advocacy groups, are involved in changing policies to make access to USDA-inspected facilities more available, but Ferd Hoefner, Policy Director with the NSAC, says the results do not come easily. “A number of farmers, frustrated by this lack of policy, are starting their own processing facilities. How do you get inspectors to these plants? That’s a huge bottleneck,” Hoefner notes. This issue has become a top concern for the National Sustainable Ag Coalition. “With the federal government, most policies are going to become one size fits all,” Hoefner adds. “We’re looking for ways to make the regulatory regime fit.” One such legislative change has allowed select state-certified processors to operate as USDA-approved facilities, increasing the number of processors with the USDA’s stamp of approval.
Another potential answer is the implementation of mobile slaughter units. These are large trailers that are essentially a certified facility on wheels. They are driven out to farms. According to the Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network, there are approximately 20 MSUs in operation in the country, operating in 14 states. Hoefner notes that the MSU system is still finding its place in the market. “It’s a little bit too early to tell there,” says Hoefner. “As the market develops, maybe the market will be viable.” MSU’ could be a future key to beef and poultry operations. “I would love for my animals to not have to leave, and end their lives here,” says Alderson.
Perdue is moving NO ANTIBIOTICS EVER™ protein into mainstream grocery categories and foodservice menu items with the rapid transition of its entire frozen, refrigerated and fresh value-added chicken products and all of its foodservice turkey items to NO ANTIBIOTICS EVER (NAE). Perdue made the announcement during the 2016 Annual Meat Conference in Nashville.
The transition, taking place now, will make PERDUE® the first major brand to convert all of its value-added chicken products to NO ANTIBIOTICS EVER, providing consumers with choices in every category – fresh, refrigerated and frozen. The conversion to NO ANTIBIOTICS EVER at retail includes all PERDUE brand heat-and-eat and pre-seasoned chicken items, such as retail nuggets, strips and grilled strips. It ensures that consumers do not have to forego the confidence that comes with NO ANTIBIOTICS EVER for the convenience they want, nor will they have to wait years. Products will hit shelves this month, with the conversion continuing through May. Perdue is distributing those products coast-to-coast.
The conversion to NO ANTIBIOTICS EVER for all foodservice turkey items means that more than 150 NO ANTIBIOTICS EVER menu items are now available to independent operators through foodservice distributors across the country. The foodservice turkey items join a complete line of NO ANTIBIOTICS EVER menu-ready chicken distributed under the PERDUE HARVESTLAND® and other foodservice brands.
Eric Christianson, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Innovation, explains the scale of Perdue’s latest advancement in NO ANTIBIOTICS EVER consumer products: “In the retail sector, we’re converting all branded refrigerated and frozen convenience products to NO ANTIBIOTICS EVER, bringing the total number of products with the claim to more than 200. In just a few months, we will take NAE mainstream, moving it beyond select fresh items and niche brands and making PERDUE NO ANTIBIOTICS EVER chicken products available everywhere consumers shop for chicken in the grocery store. The combination of converting our everyday, go-to PERDUE products to NO ANTIBIOTICS EVER, along with our NO ANTIBIOTICS EVER foodservice offerings, represents a significant transformation in the market. We’re raising the bar on the choices consumers can expect right now.”
The announcement follows the company’s continued leadership in minimizing antibiotic use: two-thirds of the company’s chickens are now raised without any antibiotics of any kind, up from 50 percent six months ago. And although raising turkey without antibiotics is more difficult than chicken, Perdue has nonetheless converted more than half of its turkey raising to NO ANTIBIOTICS EVER, a major shift in turkey production practices.
“The NO ANTIBIOTICS EVER distinction is very important to us,” said Chairman Jim Perdue. “That claim is transparent and absolutely clear to consumers: no antibiotics of any kind, at any time. Consumers have a number of concerns around antibiotic use, and they deserve products that address all those concerns with a promise they can trust. That’s why we back up the NO ANTIBIOTICS EVER claim on PERDUE consumer chicken products with a USDA Process Verified Program.”
GNP Company®, a provider of premium natural chicken in the Midwest, will be adding two new attributes to chicken products sold under its flagship Gold’n Plump®brand. The attributes include “No Antibiotics–Ever” and the American Humane Certified™ farm program seal. The first Gold’n Plump products featuring both of these claims will hit store shelves in March, with more added in the summer. The company will gradually extend these attributes to the entire Gold’n Plump line, with the goal of all products to offer them by 2019.
“The demand for products raised humanely and with no antibiotics ever is growing,” said Julie Berling, Director of Strategic Communications and Insights for GNP Company. “One study shows as many as 42 percent of chicken consumers say ‘hormone- or antibiotic-free’ is an important factor to them. And 92.6 percent of consumers find it very important to buy humanely raised meats.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council reports chicken raised without routine use of antibiotics is no longer a niche business and that chicken leads the meat product movement towards reduced antibiotics use.
Not All Claims Equal
The company says its flagship Gold’n Plump brand will be one of the first mainstream chicken brands to fully transition its entire product line to be raised without antibiotics of any kind.
“Not all antibiotic claims are created equal,” explains Brian Roelofs, Vice President of Sales, Marketing and Service for GNP Company. “Many companies are making statements about eliminating the use of antibiotics medically important to humans. GNP Company’s move is taking that further—eliminating all antibiotics of any kind for its All Natural Gold’n Plump products now, with the remaining portfolio to follow.”
The USDA only allows products sourced from chickens never-ever given antibiotics their entire lives, including when inside the egg, to be labeled as “No Antibiotics–Ever.”
The Gold’n Plump brand’s transition is gradual to ensure continuous humane, ethical animal care and product availability. GNP Company continues to believe animal antibiotics, when used judiciously and as needed under veterinarian guidance, are safe for animals as well as humans. Yet, it also recognizes consumers’ and customers’ growing desire for choices in the meat case that are raised without antibiotics. Roelofs added, “We will continue to reduce our antibiotics use in response to consumer and customer demand. However, we will continue to treat flocks for illness, including the use of antibiotics when necessary, as withholding treatment is not ethical or humane.”
Humane Care Promise Becomes Certified
As Gold’n Plump products transition to a No Antibiotics–Ever product line, it will also become officially certified by the American Humane Certified farm program. “GNP Company has always been committed to the humane treatment of our chickens,” said Roelofs. “We first partnered with the American Humane Certified farm program in 2010 to certify our Just BARE® products under the program’s rigorous standards. Since 2013, we’ve been auditing our contracted family farm partners and grow-out barns—including those responsible for the care of Gold’n Plump flocks. The official certification of Gold’n Plump formalizes our already steadfast belief in humane care.”
For products to display the American Humane Certified seal, GNP Company’s animal care, handling and processing practices are independently, third party audited and must meet or exceed the agency’s more than 200 rigorous requirements.
A majority of core Gold’n Plump products, such as small and family packs of boneless skinless chicken breasts, chicken thighs and ground chicken, will carry both the No Antibiotics–Ever claim and American Humane Certified seal by summer 2016. All remaining Gold’n Plump value-added retail, deli and foodservice products will transition by the end of 2019.
Extensive media and in-store support will help drive awareness for this Gold’n Plump product line transition in select markets. A mix of advertising will run via print, online, mobile, video and radio channels. Gold’n Plump messaging will be shared among social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Point-of-sale shelf-talker materials will deliver the news in-store.
La Quercia founders Herb & Kathy Eckhouse added a fourth Good Food Award to their shelf this month, this time for Speck Americano, prosciutto that is lightly cold smoked over apple wood. On January 15, more than 800 people gathered to pay tribute to 176 Good Food Award Winners of 2016. By the majestic Golden Gate Bridge on the San Francisco Bay numerous farmers, chefs, journalists, and activists united to celebrate exceptional food crafters including luminaries Alice Waters, Nell Newman and Slow Food Founder, Carlo Petrini.
La Quercia calls its award winning Speck Americano “a charcuterie board crowd pleaser.” La Quercia prosciutto is aged for nine to 12 months then cold-smoked over apple wood, adding the evocative aroma of the open fire to the deep sweetness of the meat. The producer recommends pairing La Quercia Speck with hard cider, a wide range of beer and wine, and almost any cheese, as well as wrapping it around fruit, grilled vegetables, or grissini for an easy happy hour bite. Made with pork that is raised humanely on family farms in Iowa and central Missouri without the use of antibiotics. Ingredients are pork and sea salt — no nitrates or nitrites added. Sold at specialty markets across the nation and available via mail order: http://laquercia.us/order_cured_la_quercia_meats.
By Richard Thompson
Sriracha Pork Jerky is the latest offering from Golden Island and its line of gourmet jerkies. This fiery new addition rounds out the line of specialty beef and pork flavored jerkies that include Korean Barbeque, Kung Pao and Chili Lime. “We are focused on handcrafted, gourmet jerky,” says Stephen Silzer, Director of Marketing at Golden Island.
Originating in Taiwan over 50 years ago as a family business, Golden Island is a California-based jerky company (now owned by Tyson Foods) whose product line stands apart from competitors due to the company’s small-batch cooking process. “With origins in Taiwan, the ingredients and recipes have been passed down.” says Silzer. “This includes individually slicing and marinating each piece in small batches…. Then we either kettle cook or flame-grill our meats to best ensure…great-tasting, tender jerky.”
Golden Island sells six different flavors of jerky made with an exclusive blend of natural herbs, spices and sauces authentic to the company’s Asian roots. The three beef and three pork flavors are all high in protein and clean label – all-natural, gluten-free, no preservatives and no nitrites added.
The company’s top seller is Korean Barbeque Pork Jerky, made with garlic powder, soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil that carry’s a little sweet flavor from the marinade mixed with a savory bite from the sesame. The Grilled Barbeque Pork Jerky tastes like small shavings of honey-touched Christmas ham dropped in your mouth, giving your tongue something to celebrate.
The Beef Jerky flavors include Kung Pao, Chili Lime and Five Spice. The smoky flavor of the chili flaked speckled Kung Pao Beef Jerky adds an earthy kick to the intense tongue burn that the Kung Pao Beef Jerky is known for. It has a loyal following because of its heat, says Silzer, while the Chili Lime Beef Jerky has a nice balance of zesty lime flavor that compliments its own heat as well. The Five Spice Beef Jerky is gluten-free and starts with a little kick that retains its bold flavor from the Asian inspired sweet and spicy flavorings.
While there are no plans for additional offerings to the product line in the immediate future, the company is always looking ahead. “We are always focused on the next flavor trend and looking to expand our lineup…and existing flavors,” says Silzer.
Currently, Golden Island products can be found at Costco Wholesale, World Market and in Southern California in traditional grocery stores like Ralph’s – as well as on the company’s website. According to Silzer, “We are looking to expand into more retail and convenience stores where snacks are sold as well as embrace the penetration of Amazon.com and online grocery selling opportunities. Our focus is about delivering flavor with a moist and tender texture from our proprietary process that stands alone with the company.”
Verde Farms, which provides 100 percent grass-fed, grass-finished beef and lamb for both retail and food service, is engaging in several new brand initiatives, including a website re-launch and a packaging refresh to position the company towards a new phase of growth. The demand for grass-fed beef in the U.S. has fueled exceptional growth for Verde Farms. Founded in 2005, the company experienced 70 percent sales growth in 2014 and is on track for another record year of growth as 2015 comes to a close.
“I think you’re seeing a shift in how we think about beef here in the states. It’s not just about reducing meat consumption and depriving ourselves – it’s about eating better meat,” said Dana Ehrlich, CEO and Co-founder. “The reason we’re seeing such success is because Verde Farms has always been committed to sourcing and delivering the best 100 percent grass-fed and grass-finished beef products that are better across the board. Better for consumers, better for the animals and better for the environment.”
While the company’s first customers were upscale restaurants, caterers, and medical facilities that wanted an organic and grass-fed alternative, Verde Farms now services fine retailers nationwide. The company has also gained loyal food service accounts like Boston-based Boloco, among others.
Heading into 2016, Verde Farms has also quadrupled its sales team and plans to expand its branded retail presence so consumers know to look for the green and orange Verde Farms logo when seeking the best quality meat and lamb. Studies suggest that grass-finished beef may be lower in fat and calories than grain-finished beef and has higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, CLA’s (conjugated linoleic acid — an essential fatty acid thought to reduce heart disease and cancer risks), and more antioxidant vitamins, like Vitamins E.
While visiting South America, Ehrlich was inspired by the expansive pastures and grass-fed cattle that roam in stark contrast to conventional beef farming in the U.S. A former engineer at Intel, Ehrlich leveraged his background in product development with a passion for sustainable, high-quality meat to found Verde Farms. Alongside Tuck School of Business classmate and Co-Founder, Pablo Garbarino, the two built the company on three guiding principles – health benefits for the consumer, animal welfare and environmental sustainability. Today, Verde Farms is the number 1 importer of grass-fed beef from Uruguay and also sources from family farms in Australia, New Zealand, and North America.
“Beginning with family farmers that we’ve diligently selected, we wanted to provide consumers with a better option – one that was not only more nutritious, but also better for the environment and for the animals themselves,” said Ehrlich. “We have been meticulous every step of the way to ensure that our cattle is raised as nature intended – on pastures and with grass feed only – and that we provide a delicious, premium product.”
By Richard Thompson
Meat industry professionals are seeing red as media coverage of a recent World Health Organization report tying red meat consumption with colorectal cancer continues to confuse consumers. Media responses to the report have made mountains out of meatballs, creating confusion on what makes up a balanced diet for consumers, says Eric Mittenthal, Vice President of Public Affairs at North American Meat Institute, but will not, in the end, much affect the meat industry.
The report, headed by a panel from the International Agency Research on Cancer (IARC) and released by WHO, concluded that for large numbers of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance. Mittenthal, whose agency represents processors and meat packers throughout the country, sees that despite all of the sensational headlines used by the media, consumers and meat industry professionals are still finding the report’s results hard to swallow: “This confirms our position that the report was over-reaching and alarmist and the fact that the [IARC] panelists were not even unanimous about the findings supports [our position].”
According to Jeff Stier, Risk Analysis Director at the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), the report confuses readers by not accurately explaining the difference between actual and theoretical risks. “Correlation is different than causation.” warns Stier, “Even if they are right, all they are alleging is that if you eat a lot of [processed meat] your whole life, you have a very slight increased risk for cancer. But if you’re eating that much meat anyway, you might be more concerned with cardiovascular disease, weight problems and diabetic issues. Not colorectal cancer.”
In the report, the experts concluded that each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent, but Mittenthal and Stier dispute that finding as inaccurate and poorly worded.
Stier, whose job is to direct the risk analysis division of NCPPR and help translate information into good public policy, says that using the 18 percent without understanding the context is like saying that living near a NASA facility triples the chances someone will be hit by an errant spaceship. “It may be true, but doesn’t mean much,” says Stier.
“Our industry supplies consumers, and they are the bottom line, and it’s clear by how people are reacting to this that they are rolling their eyes. Most people take this information with a grain of salt – which, I’m sure, somehow can cause cancer too,” says Mittenthal.
While public affair officials like Mittenthal are concerned over the public relations impact of the study, industry professionals from the National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA) and American Meat Sciences Association (AMSA) are branding the science behind the report as inaccurate and incomplete. Dr. Shalene McNeill, PhD., RD, Beef Checkoff Nutrition Scientist and Registered Dietician for the National Cattleman’s Beef Association observed the IARC process, “IARC…doesn’t always represent consensus in the scientific community. After seven days of deliberation…IARC was unable to reach a consensus agreement from a group of 22 experts in the field of cancer research, something that IARC… typically achieves.”
“We know that cancer risk is not about diet alone and the report simply adds to people’s confusion about cancer,” says Deidrea Mabry, MS, Director of Scientific Communications and Technical Programs for the American Meat Sciences Association (AMSA).
The IARC findings insinuate that for every 50 grams of processed meat (or about two pieces of bacon) comes an 18 percent increase of getting colorectal cancer, but the reality is more mundane, according to Stier. During a lifetime of eating 50 grams of processed meat a day, every day, a person has an estimated 18 percent increase of having colorectal cancer versus someone who didn’t follow the same diet (an actual individual risk increase of 1 or 2 percent over the course of their life). To put that in perspective, red and processed meat are among 940 agents reviewed by IARC – consisting of air, aloe vera, coffee and wine, among others – that pose some level of theoretical hazard if used over-abundantly. McNeill explains, “The available scientific evidence simply does not support a causal relationship between red or processed meat and any type of cancer.”
Now that the WHO report is out, pro-meat agencies like NCPPR will continue to provide scientifically accurate information to consumers. “This is what I do for a living; stuffing toothpaste back in the tube,” says Stier.
As for national regulatory agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, no action is planned in response to the report or its findings. According to a press release by the FDA, the agency hasn’t had an opportunity to review the IARC monograph report and that IARC does not recommend regulations, legislation or public health interventions. On top of that, the NIH National Toxicology Program (NTP) report on Carcinogens has not looked at red or processed meats nor have those substances been nominated for review for the next edition.
Mabry seasons her concerns with prudence, “Consumers have seen beyond the sensational, and often inaccurate headlines….we know that cancer risk is not about diet alone and…it’s easy to get caught up in a report or a study.” According to Mabry, what’s most important is that consumers understand eating a healthy and well-balanced diet – including meat (both red and processed) – is supported by the strongest science available.
Her words appear to have resonated with WHO and IARC as well, since at time of press, the agencies have started backpedaling on how the report was worded and subsequently reported on via a Twitter account. Sample tweets include: “The #cancer review on processed meat does not ask ppl to stop eating meat, but to reduce intake to lower cancer risk.” They even went as far as to say there was a “shortcoming” to the classification system that processed meats were placed in.
For McNeill, this report changes nothing to what everyone in and out of the industry has already known for years, “As a registered dietitian and mother, my advice hasn’t changed. Eat a balanced diet, which includes lean meats like beef, maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and, please, don’t smoke.”
White-tablecloth chefs are beginning to pass the word that they’re interested in moving meat off the center of the plate, and they say that that’s in response to request from their customers who are interested in eating less meat but have no intention whatever of cutting back on flavor. Specialty food producers are hearing those whispers as well, and they’re also responding.
Sweet Earth Natural Foods is producing a line of handheld sandwich options that include no meat but will appeal to consumers who want options for multiple day parts. Think about McDonald’s decision to offer breakfast all day long and the early success of that strategy and about growing acceptance of the burrito as a breakfast option, and you’ll see why this is an idea with legs.
Quorn is a market leader in meat alternatives because it tastes great and even mimics the texture of poultry. Made from mycoprotein, which is derived from a fungus, the taste and mouth feel of the company’s chik’n and turk’y products are winning fans.
While the meat alternatives are offering great options for people who want to cut back on the amount of meat they’re consuming, other consumers are bound to decide that the way they prefer to go is to find meat choices that will give them more satisfaction. For some of those folks, Lone Mountain Wagyu, which won awards in this year’s sofi Awards competition, will be an option to consider. Vermont Smoke & Cure offers another line of meat snacks with great taste that will hit some of the same marks.
By Lorrie Baumann
Vermont Smoke & Cure launched a bold new brand design and three new flavors of its Meat Sticks during this year’s Natural Products Expo East. Like the other half-dozen flavors of the better-for-you meat snacks in the line, the Spicy Italian Pork, Rosemary Thyme Chicken and Teriyaki Chicken Sticks are gluten free and contain considerably less fat and salt than competing meat sticks.
“We are working to make the whole meat business better – with new products made from vegetarian-fed meats that are raised with no antibiotics or added hormones,” says Chris Bailey, Vermont Smoke & Cure’s CEO. “Our new packaging look better conveys our clean ingredients and the positive impact we work to bring about in our community and landscape.”
Vermont Smoke & Cure Meat Sticks start with quality meat. Beef in the sticks comes from lead supplier Pineland Farms Natural Meats in Maine or other similar suppliers. Pork comes from DuBreton in Quebec or from Coleman Natural Foods, which works with family farmers throughout the country to produce meat raised entirely without antibiotics.
“Our Sticks don’t have overwhelming flavors – you get nice spice and you can still taste the meat,” Bailey says. “It’s all ingredients you’d find in your kitchen, just meat and spices with no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.”
“The Sticks have been the fastest-growing part of our business,” he added. “The bacon has been growing quite well also, but the Sticks have been outpacing it.”
To fulfill the demand for its products, the company just installed the equipment for quadrupling its processing capacity. Its Meat Sticks, which retail for $1.69 to $1.99, are currently distributed nationally in Whole Foods and through major natural foods distributors to hundreds of co-ops and natural and conventional grocers around the country.
For more information, visit www.vtsmokeandcure.com.