By Mark Wilhelms

I recently was asked to head a panel discussion for the Good Festival in March. The panel was suppose to be titled “Sustainable Meat”  I am big believer in sustainability and its fundamental definition of a system that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” However, Local meat has taken a much more aggressive posture in the last 5 years and evolved well beyond the simple title of sustainable meat. simply put,  I believe the local meat system has tipped and gone mainstream. What once was called Sustainable local meat, I now call Meat 2.0. Therefore, I called the panel Local Meat 2.0. To understand 2.0 lets take a look at 1.0.

Mark Wilhelms Speaking Meat 2.0 Think Regional. Act Local.Meat 1.0 started roughly in 1993 when certain farmers and localvore leaders at the time (although they didn’t know it) felt that “Good Meat” was raised primarily on grass and solely on grass in lush green pastures under blue skies. Unlike “Feedlot Cattle” they were not fed grain or antibiotics or hormones or steroids to accelerate their growth but to just feed the animals what they are suppose to eat all their lives - Grass! Turned out the meat actually tastes better, its more healthy, its more humane to the animals and supports a sustainable environment. An industry was born.

From 1993 to roughly 2006, this notion of Grass-Fed meats grew rapidly within the bohemian and localvore communities. The American Grass-fed Association was started by Dr Patty Whisnant who later grew her Rain Crow ranch Grass-Fed Beef business to a multi-million dollar powerhouse in the midwest.  In Local Meat 1.0 buying decision were simple and composed of local meat lovers whose buying decisions were based on several simple factors:

“Meet the Farmer”

1.  Buy direct From Farm by going to the Farm
2.  Sustainability
3.  Goodness - Tastes Great!
4.  Humane Treatment of the animals
5.  Trust the Farmer
6.  You get to pet a pony

In 2006 two things happened: Michael Pollens book, the Ominores delima became a best seller, changing the intellectuals in the countries notion of just what kind of meat we might be eating and what it is doing to the environment. This spurred the USDA to recognize local sustainable meat, specifically Grass-Fed as a bonifide product and thus labeled it such.

Food Festival Panel
March 8th, 2008 was the year I feel, Local Meat Tipped! You will see by the slide presentation the factors that led up to this Big Meat disrupting tipping point moment. The final deadly blow, that shock the nation, was Diane Sawyers ABC expose on the now famous “Pink Slime”  The headlines that appeared in the media was, I believe” Pink Slime Found In 70% Of Supermarket Ground Beef In ABC Investigation.” Ouch.

Pink slime, while most believe, including yours truly is, completely harmless, the american public didn’t think so. After all how can meat called Pink Slime treated by ammonia be anything we want to feed our children!We Americans like to pass blame on to something for our obesity and unhealthy lifestyles and Pink Slime was a perfect target!

Lets keep in mind that most of this would have gone unnoticed if it weren’t for the “darn internet.”  In 2008, Social Media was in full swing and so were smart phones and neat little digital cameras that recorded video, really well. You Tube exploded with every clip you would want from every PETA warrior with a vendetta on the Big Meat system and their talent of abusing animals, especially with a fork lift.  That coupled with Facebook reaching over 100 million and Twitter launching with a firestorm of millennial’s now willing to Tweet millions of snippet of news, stories, feelings, images, beliefs or statements to just about everybody at every second of every day! Lets not leave out Google either whose algorithms had become so powerful that news and information was traveling to millions of browsers within seconds after being posted. Pink Slime didn’t have chance and “Tipped” Meat from Bad to Good.

Consumers demanded access. Whole Foods reached over $10 billion in sales and Farmers Markets began to pop up in every available park, street corner and city plaza.  Los Angeles Times article By Georgina Gustinin November 13 of 2012 further validated “Good Meats” steady growth over the last 10 years with statements like:

•  Demand for grass-fed beef is growing 20% per year
•  It only accounts for only about 3% of the market
•  Dr. Alan Williams says: Late 1990’s -100 producers. Now 2,000 producers
•  Grown to a $2.5 billion in retail value.

This leads us to Local Meat 2.0 and the panel discussion we had a the Good Food Festival March 2013. Good Meat had indeed gone Mainstream.

Big Meat did not sit still and retaliated, partly to meet demand of consumers but mostly to re-market themselves as a healthy choice for a price conscious america.

The tactics were primitive and based on our american cultural weak spot; Fear and Greed

#1 Big Meat launched branded products or Fear = Health
•  Antibiotic Free/Hormone free, no GMO’s

#2 Imported Meats or Greed = Price:
•  Grass-Fed meats at lower price points
•  Uruguay, Argentina, Tasmania, Australia

These are formidable opponents in the market and Local Meat 2.0 will have to tackled many questions. Ive listed all of them in this blog. Some them were unanswered during the panel but most are in a state of constant flux and will have to sort out as Local Meat evolves. The primary challenges that exist in 2.0 are:

1.  Providers are fragmented

2.  Category is confusing

3.  Supply is inconsistent

Big Meat is a good system. Very efficient and frankly delivers all the meat we Americans can eat every day. Grass-Fed Producers will admit that the local meat system requires a slower process and more time for animals to reach market weight, more land, more care and more money.  The good news is that there is plenty of Cattle! 2.5 million alone in Southwest Wisconsin, the heart of grass-fed beef production in the upper Midwest The choke point as illustrated on one of the slides is processing of animals. There just inst enough processing power to meet the demand. My partner in RMM, and local meat Evangelist, Bartlett Durand believe in centralized processing and distribution. Bartlett is a big thinker and runs a large processing plant now with plans to launch a uber-processing plant in the future.  However, well known localvore leader and President of WellSpring Management, Warren King, who’s mission is to be a leader in promoting the stewardship of natural resources; particularly our land and our water has very different views. He believes in a hyper-local model of small processors that already exists and that that will become the new local meat ecosystem. We both agree that category needs to mature and define itself. I’m going to listen closely to what Warren has to say in the coming years, since he spent the majority of his professional career with Cargill, Inc. as a trader, futures analyst, commodities broker and international market developer. He also carries himself as a true Chicago gentleman, dresses elegantly and sports a felt fedora as well or better than Cary Grant.

Nevertheless, Local Meat 2.0 is left with the issues and the questions if it is to reach 3.0. Whether Warrens Hyper-local model proves out or a more consolidated model evolves; Local Meat 3.0 will be defined as “A regions ability to provide consistent supply, consolidated delivery, consistent procurement, centralized processing, standardized labeling, wide distribution channels and enough marketing muscle and innovation to continue to disrupt the Big Meat and Imported Grass-Fed products. It must also follow sustainable practices that are heart of the localvore movement - “It meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

I will personally enjoy this amazing growth through all our marketing and sales efforts at Red Meat Market by helping to take local meat mainstream and introduce the benefits of Good Meat over Big Meat. As Local Meat 1.0 was defined as above, Local Meat 2.0 can now be defined as below:

“Know the Region” - Regional is the new local.

Buying decisions:
1.  Regional/Local
2.  Goodness/Taste
3.  Customer Service/Dist
4.  Humane/ No Feedlots
5.  Green/Sustainability

...and oh yeah, buy your own pony.

Enjoy the questions and comment on answers if you like!

Panel Objective:

Is there a local meat system in place that can handle this market growth? Can the local meat system even service the demands of Chicago, for instance? If not what do we need to create efficiencies, manage category growth and compete effectively? How can local can compete with Industrial meat ABF/HF “Big Meat” and imported Grass-Fed Meats?

We are going to break down challenges from the Local provider through processing, through distribution and final go to market and marketing strategies.

Local Meat Category growth and scale is imperative. A regional meat system to find efficiency’s is only one solution.


1.  Basic Questions

a.  Is there enough cattle in the region.
b.  Are there enough Providers? If there are not enough providers, what is the solution?
c.  Much like the Dairy Industry is there a danger to Industrial meat buying land, small farms and grassing cattle on what could become in essence Industrial “Grass-Lots”?
d.  How can the local meat system compete with Imported Grass-Fed meats and lower price points? Uruguay, Argentina,Tasmania, Australia
e.  How local providers branded products compete with ABF/hormone Free, no GMO’s brands like Omaha ABF, Meyers, Niman, Creekstone, Miller, Freebird chicken, Duroc Pork.

2.  Producers

a.  Is it worth starting a Farm?  – Given the market opportunity isn’t it a good time to start a farm.
b.  If you were have to start a farm again, today, is it better to run livestock and sell to Niman ranch or build your own brand and try to sell to Farmers Markets, online or CSA’s
c.  What is the number of livestock that turns from small farm to medium – 200 pigs, 500 – 2000 to Niman. Organic Valley - chickens 1000 a year to sublet– 20,000 a year for retail sales, buying clubs
d.  Live in your comfort zone - When growing from Small to Medium you become a marketing company. When growing from Medium to Large you become a Brand.
e.  As the farm scales from medium to large, how is consistent quality of product maintained?
f.    Staying hyperlocal (within a 50 mile radius) for small businesses is critical. What advice would you give a small farmer when marketing to his community?

3.  Processors

a.  There is very limited processing power in the Midwest. Can we meet the local demand with local processing?
b.  Are Multiple Micro slaughter plants vrs one big plant vrs Mobile slaughter units an option
c.  How can so many local producers find processing power, schedule a time for slaughtering and submit and track information about their order.
d.  Do consumers care about humane processing or treatment of animals

3.  Distribution

a.  When growing from medium to large, what are the advantages and disadvantages of working with distributors?
b.  How many distributors should you use?
c.  When does not running your own trucks become impractical?
d.  Supply chain?
a.  What does an efficient supply chain for the Chicago food shed look like?
b.  How is it different from the factory model?  or will it just become the same?
c.  How do you maintain consistent quality?
e.  Regional is the new Local – Is a Regional Food System a loosely knit collection of Food Hubs or is collaboration with Big Meat Distribution inevitable?

4.  Marketing

a.  What are the advantages of Farmers Markets – do they matter any more
b.  What about online?
c.  Added Grow Branded/Value Added – longer shelf live
d.  Branding/differentiation by region or breed or is grass fed meat becoming a commodity?
e.  How about loyalty in the Chef community do you think that’s changing?
f.    Hyper local Farmers - Think Regionally, Act local – 20 mile radius – what can you do to help – Alot!
g.  What are the advantages that local meat providers have against Big Meat?
h.  Three T’s – Taste, Trust and Transparency

5.  Consumers

RMM Survey: consumers were asked:

When buying Meat, how would you rank your buying decision from most important to least?

•  Humane Treatment
•  Health
•  Personal Service
•  Sustainable
•  Taste
•  Price
•  Local Origin

a.  What do they really care about?
b.  Are consumers willing to pay more for Local, Sustainable, Humane treatment of animals?
c.  The Category is confusing. Confusion about what grass-fed v. grass-finished
d.  The Local Meat system needs leadership in brand positioning:

Just what is good meat anyway?

•  No added antibiotics
•  Raised without antibiotics
•  Fed no animal proteins
•  Natural
•  All natural
•  Grain-Finished
•  Corn Finished
•  No added hormones
•  100% Grass-Fed
•  Locally raised within X miles
•  Locally pastured
•  No GMO’s
•  Naturally Foraged

6.  Local v. Anywhere?

a.  Is 100% Grass-Fed from Uruguay as good (healthy) as Iowa or Wisconsin? Do people care? Will they choose local and pay more – why?
b.  What is the Good Meat Movement? How can we drive it? Is a movement all it takes?  No – Must Activate the movement
c.  Who can help? The USDA?  What is the AGA’s role in the future? With the USDA grading systems how relevant is the organization and what power or protection can they wield?

Mark Wilhelms is the Founder of Red Meat Market. You can find Mark on and Twitter