Local beef and pork farmers have to contend with a lot of obstacles, not the least of which is the perception that their products are less affordable than supermarket meats.

Matt LeRoux, an associate with Cornell University Extension, has researched both how perceptions of price and marketing strategies have affected the sales and success of local meat farmers.

“When we conducted our research, we found that consumers perceive that local meat costs more,” said LeRoux. “This has been partially fueled by the fact that meat prices have risen 30% over the past 18 months.”

LeRoux’s findings, however, demonstrated the opposite. “We were able to document that, on average, the prices for beef and pork were on average less at farmers markets and on-site farm stores than at grocery stores and supermarkets.”

He said that the key to accurately comparing prices is to make sure that apples are not being contrasted with oranges. He warned local farmers against misjudging the competition they perceive they might have from larger supermarkets. “There are three main product types here, and you won’t get a fair comparison if you’re not judging the price of a meat against a like product,” he cautioned.

The three product types are:

  • Conventional Meats – The basic meats found in the supermarket, including those labeled “all natural.”
  • Level 1 Meats – Meats raised without antibiotics, including “local” produce.
  • Level 2 Meats – Pasture raised, grass-fed and organic meats.

In order to maximize their profits, local meat farmers have to set an optimum price and utilize effective marketing.

Pricing and marketing local meats

Matt LeRoux

To assist farmers with price setting, LeRoux developed MeatSuite.com. The website is an online directory listing over 150 meat farms across New York State. The site features the Cornell Meat Price & Yield Calculator, which allows farms to enter individualized data and profit goals, then price their meat with the assurance of meeting those goals.

Using the calculator can better prepare farmers to create pricing for each marketing channel they utilize, whether selling whole carcasses or meat by the cut. To yield the best results, users need to prepare in advance by gathering their current meat prices, invoices from their processors and the weights of cuts from one average animal in their herd. Farmers who have this information at their disposal say the calculator takes an average time of 10 minutes to get them the information they need.

As far as for marketing, LeRoux said it can be just as important as pricing. “I have people telling me ‘Oh, I could never get the prices I’d like to charge’ and I tell them they’re right. This is because the extent of their marketing is having their farm’s name on the side of their truck,” he said. He added that bringing meat to market without proper marketing is tantamount to leaving money on the table.

LeRoux also outlined two basic forms of marketing:

  • Production Driven (Push) Marketing – The focus of this method is to persuade, educate and convince the buyer why they should pay your price. LeRoux said local meat producers shouldn’t want to be involved in push marketing.

“You go to where there is a high concentration of people, but not necessarily your target demographic, and try to sell to them. It’s time consuming and expensive,” he said.

  • Market Driven (Pull) Marketing – The goal of this approach is to go to where the target marketplace is. It’s less about convincing people than it is about serving them.

“These consumers are saying ‘I really wish there was a place where I could buy locally raised pork.’ They already want your stuff,” he said. “These are the markets you need to target and let them pull you in.”

For more information visit MeatSuite.com.

by Enrico Villamaino