by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

It doesn’t matter if you raise the best quality meat around if you lack the market to sell it. That quandary was addressed by “Finding a Niche Market for Your Meat,” a session presented by Samer and Diane Saleh of Halal Pastures at the recent NOFA-NY conference.

The owners of Halal Pastures in Rock Tavern, NY, the Salehs began their venture because they could not find organic, halal meats for their family.

“Halal is an Arabic word that means ‘lawful to consume within the Muslim religion,’” Samer explained. Forbidden by religion to eat pork, the Salehs process only lamb, goat and beef.

“The process in which it’s slaughtered is hand slaughtered, while uttering the name of God and thanking him for its life,” Diane said. “The animals cannot witness one another’s slaughters. We know animals do feel and have emotions.”

Niche meat needs a market – Halal slaughter

Samer holds Noah, 3, while his wife Diane holds Salahudeen, 2, who is feeding Malaak, 9. Photo courtesy of Halal Pastures

The Salehs were living in Queens, with Diane working as a lawyer and Samer in investments. They began traveling on weekends to farms all over Upstate New York to learn about farming. Eleven years ago, they purchased the 14-acre farm on which they raise vegetables and 120 layers with the assistance of a hired hand.

For the organic, halal meat, they source animals from 16 different farms in New York and Pennsylvania. The Salehs’ team slaughters the animals, processes and packages them at Eklund Processing in Stamford and then they ship the meat nationwide. Selling to such a broad geographic area seems difficult; however, Diane sees it as an advantage.

“You have a defined customer base,” she said. “You know exactly what your customer profile is of the customer who will buy your product. You can focus on product development. You have your 25 products and know exactly what your customer wants. You can get feedback and go back and adjust your product.”

Diane believes that focusing on core values is what makes Halal Pastures successful. “I would be spinning my wheels if I were trying to sell to people who didn’t care about our core values,” she said. She can allocate resources based on her farm’s capabilities, determine prices and build real, lasting relationships with customers.

“We all have a limited amount of time that we can do anything,” Diane said. “We want to put our energies towards something we’re good at.”

While the Salehs enjoy meeting the needs of a niche market, they also noted a few disadvantages. It does limit their customer base and make it challenging to find an ideal customer. They also have a limited number of products to offer, which can require finding more new customers.

“If there’s 15 to 20 million Muslims in the U.S., not all will care about my products,” Diane said. “Marketing to try to find those people is a lot of trial and error. You might have limited product offerings. Because we want to serve the organic halal market, we can’t serve duck because there are no organic ducks. It’s hard for us to come by.”

She believes it is vital to find the target audience through social media, direct marking, sponsorships, farmers markets and word-of-mouth. “There’s a lot on our plate,” she said. “He focuses on getting animals to the slaughterhouse. We have to plan a year or two in advance. If we need 100 head two years from now, we have to plan for that. If you have a phenomenal product and no one’s buying it, that’s not good.”

She said targeted pushes through social media can help her find the markets who want her products based on location and interest.

“If you want to do more marketing in your area, you can,” Diane said. “It takes just a couple of hours of planning per week, and a lot of trial and error.”

“Growing our market organically has been the most important thing to us,” Samer said. “Every year, we almost double our revenue. It’s through word of mouth and they come back and buy again and tell their friends, family and co-workers. It’s not like we went overnight 100 to 1,000 customers. That’s not organic. The farmers would not be ready to give me the number of animals I would need to supply customers.”

The operation’s farm stand, where they sell their vegetables, eggs and honey, along with the farm’s CSA program, have helped grow Halal Pasture’s local presence.

Shipping offers its own pros and cons. Access to a much broader market offers a huge advantage; however, shipping costs “can be quite expensive,” Diane said. “If the meat is delivered late and is spoiled, we have to eat that expense.”

The Salehs are actively seeking more farm partners to provide goats, lambs and beef. As long as the animals are raised organically and are grass-fed, they are interested.