Published Jul 9, 2009

Making $ense of Meat Marketing

By Sarah Carlson
On Monday, June 22nd at the Warren County Conservation Annett Nature Center PFI held a workshop to help support farmers who want to begin marketing meat successfully. The workshop was sponsored by the newly formed Grass Based Livestock Working Group as part of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at ISU.

At the Making Sense of Meat Marketing workshop Mike Lorentz, co-owner of Lorentz Meats in Cannon Falls, MN started the day with two powerful presentations about:

“Understanding the Commodity Meat Markets” and “What business are we in?”

Mike showed that there is tremendous market opportunity for niche meats now, but that the industrial meat production system is extremely efficient – able to sell beef for less than the price of the cattle because large packers can make money from by-product sales (hides, organs, fat, bones, blood, etc.).

“A couple of his numbers caught my attention. If 10% of the beef consumed annually in Minnesota came from local farms, this would translate into 775,065 head of beef or $139,513,301 in sales if valued at what consumers would pay at retail prices. For hogs, these numbers were 239,565 head and $93,198,664 in sales. Those numbers are impressive, and Mike’s point was that it isn’t necessary to compete head-to-head with the current meat system to achieve significant sales numbers.”
  • Small meat processors cannot access these large-volume markets and thus must earn money by charging producers to process their meat.
  • Small-scale producers can make money by cutting out middlemen and selling directly to end consumers.

Mike cautioned that branded programs typically will not pencil out unless they can move more than 1000 cattle a years or 3000 hogs. For small-scale producers the best option is to sell halves, quarters and bundles (groupings of cuts totaling more than $100) or they will get too bogged down in the transaction costs of marketing individual cuts – this related well with several of the attendees who felt they had wasted whole days at farmers’ markets to sell only 3 lbs. of ground beef.

Where to start? Mike’s suggestions were–Use your exiting social and work networks to establish a customer base for halves, quarters, and meat bundles. It will take a lot of phone calls and you should be prepared to give away samples. As just mentioned, while farmers’ markets are typically not good places to sell individual cuts, they can be are good place for getting customers names early on, and delivering larger meat orders.

Lorentz Meats has been in business since 1967 and employs 45 people. They are a USDA certified, organic certified, and European Union certified facility. Mike and his family have successfully developed a small meat processing plant by working working in tandem with individual farmers and producer groups. Mike also developed a curriculum called “Branding Your Beliefs” to help farmers succeed in marketing their meats.

The afternoon session featured a group of producers who are using farmers’ markets, meat CSAs, Buying clubs, internet web sales, direct marketing and selling to institutions to keep much of the value in their hands.

Chris Lerch and his wife, Cindy from Blue Heron Organics in Milo, IA have an 75 acre farm southeast of Des Moines that is entirely seeded down to forages. Chris discussed how beef cattle operations are considered “natural.” And that identifying the customers desired feelings about meat is almost as important as the actual taste itself.

They currently have 18 agnus and black baldy cows. They began direct marketing their beef 12 years ago, and all of the beef they produce is marketed directly to direct consumers. They also operate an internet-based business where they sell various natural products to customers across the country ( They have two children, ages 8 and 10.

Cindy Madsen, and her husband, Vic, from Madsen’s Stock Farm, Audubon, IA have a 280-acre crop and livestock farm in southwest Iowa.

Cindy noted that the farmers market requires a serious investment in time including early 1 AM wake-up on Saturday. This year the cropland, on which they produce corn, soybeans, oats and hay, will all be certified organic. They also have a farrow-to-finish hog operation, and they produce eggs and broilers. They have been involved in direct marketing their pork, broilers and eggs for over ten years. They also sell some hogs to Niman Ranch. They have three grown sons.

Ryan and Kristine Jepsen, from Grass Run Farm in Dorchester, IA manage 280 acres of certified organic family land in far northeast Iowa. They stressed The land is a mix of pasture and timber. Grass Run Farm is actually a meat marketing company that sells 100% grass-fed beef from the Jepsen farm and the farms of three other producers. The beef is sold to a mix of customers, including consumers, institutions, restaurants, and grocery stores. They have a one-year-old daughter.

Investments in personal call time was stressed as a crucial component of establishing business. Even if it might take 100 calls to get one customer. It is also important to keep in communication with other PFI members who are trying things differently because the whole system is set up to discourage change.

If you have more questions or would like to receive information contact us in the office 515-232-5661.