UW Extension Specialist offers advice on direct marketing beef
“This year has been a different one for folks in Wyoming, including our cattle producers,” states University of Wyoming (UW) Extension Educator Chance Marshall, noting live cattle prices have remained lower than usual and the profitability window has been tight, especially for smaller operations.
“The value of retail beef has remained strong, even though live cattle prices have been somewhat disappointing,” he says.
Because of this unique situation, Marshall notes some producers have been trying new things and getting creative when it comes to marketing their products.
“For example, instead of selling all their calves as usual at lower prices, some producers are opting to retain ownership of a small portion of their calves,” he explains. “They will feed them to finished weights, have them processed and market them directly to consumers themselves.”
“This process means increased costs, but capitalizing on higher profit margins for their products is also possible,” he continues. “Perhaps they can make up some of their profit losses this year by skipping the middleman and selling their own products directly to the consumer for a better price.”
Understanding the market and product
According to Marshall, there are several factors producers should consider if they are going to sell their own beef.
“First, producers need to know their market and know what makes their product unique,” he says.
“Producers must have something to convince people their product is worth buying instead of going with a marked-down deal on a big store’s meat shelves. They can market their product as locally grown, exceptional quality, grass-fed, all-natural, etc. However producers decide to establish their brand, they need to make sure it jibes with what’s important to their target audience,” explains Marshall.
Understanding the limitations
In addition to understanding the market and what makes their products unique, Marshall also says producers need to understand their limitations.
He notes the Wyoming Food Freedom Act allows sales of state-inspected meat directly to consumers but not to restaurants, grocery stores or across state lines without inspection from a certified USDA facility.
“Retaining animals will require additional costs per animal in the form of pasture, time and resources. Ensure the extra costs won’t outweigh the potentially added value,” he states.
“Another priority is that producers will need reservations with their packer to get their beef processed,” Marshall adds. “This can be more difficult than one might expect, and plans should be confirmed well in advance. Options in Wyoming are still limited.”
Formulating a plan
Lastly, Marshall encourages producers who wish to directly market their beef to formulate a plan on how they will sell and pack- age their beef and what price they are selling it for.
“Those interested in direct marketing need to decide if they are selling their beef as a whole animal, dividing it into halves or quarters or selling it as boxed beef. They also need to decide how they will label the packages and how they plan on telling their products’ story,” Marshall says.
He notes this process requires time and hustle.
“Finding buyers should also start well before the beef is ready,” he continues. “Direct-sale opportunities may be limited in Wyoming, so producers need to keep the number of retained animals realistic to make sure they can get their products sold. They also need to have a plan for venues to sell the product, such as farmers’ markets, social media, etc.”
Marshall also encourages producers to have a sound business plan.
“Formulating a sound business plan is very important,” he states.
To do this, Marshall encourages producers to reference articles detailing marketing at farmers’ markets and telling their products’ story. He also explains how important it is for producers to understand the do’s and don’ts of direct marketing and protecting themselves from liability.
“Lastly, use local resources,” Marshall states. “UW Extension offices and small business development centers are located throughout the state. They have experienced professionals available to help producers develop their business plans for free or at a very low cost.”
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.