Alberta producers borrow a page from craft beer sector

Trish and Greg Tetz develop a marketing program that promotes the individuality of meat raised by different producers

Many seemingly unlikely ideas have been hatched over a beer or two and an Alberta farming couple says their new business was partly inspired by the example of small breweries that make such beer.

“Everybody’s already aware of the concept behind craft beer, right?” says Trish Tetz, pointing to the way independent breweries make their own varieties of beverage.

She and her husband, Greg, believe if it works for beer, why not meat? Hence the name of their business, Craft Beef Co., which promotes the individuality of meat raised by different producers in Alberta.

Tetz, who lives on a farm near Three Hills, Alta., said different factors in beef production produce different flavours of meat, and that’s a good thing. The type of forage, location and age of cattle all factor into flavour and tenderness.

“Every ranch does it differently and creates their own niche craft beef product,” the company website reads.

Customers can order beef, bison, pork, lamb and chicken from about 10 farms and ranches via the website, said Tetz.

Each producer was chosen for being ethical and sustainable based on criteria such as animal welfare, regenerative farming and pasture grazing practices, while avoiding use of growth hormones and unnecessary antibiotics.

Meat purchases are shipped via FedEx directly to customers’ homes, said Tetz.

“We try to keep it really, really clear on the website whether it’s grass fed and finished, or in the case of our Wagyu that’s not grass fed and finished, we make sure that’s clearly stated on there so that there’s no confusion, so if that’s something that they really want, then we’re trying to give them options.”

Craft Beef Co. buys inspected meat raised on the farms and ranches listed on its website for sale directly to consumers. Tetz views it as an option available beyond the conventional meat production and distribution system via meat packers and grocery stores.

Canada has some of the highest food quality and safety standards in the world and does an “amazing job” competing against other countries, she said.

“I think that no matter what part of the beef industry you’re in, whether you’re in the conventional system or you’re in a system like ours, there is room for everybody.”

Craft Beef Co. is aimed at consumers who seek a direct-from-the-farm connection, she said. “They want to understand where they’re buying this product from. They want to know, and that’s something that we do all the way through, is we keep all those products labelled with the farm it comes from, and on the website, we provide that opportunity for customers to purchase from some of those specific farms.”

Although the couple spent a couple of years doing research and development for their business, it didn’t take long for them to realize that as producers living at least an hour’s drive from a major city, their operation wouldn’t be feasible at a small scale, said Tetz.

They decided to also offer the products of other farms that were in a similar situation, selling online mostly to urban residents who typically order about $150 to $200 worth of meat at a time.

“Our customers are the daily grocery store shoppers. That’s our customer base. We do not currently specialize in restaurants.”

Craft Beef Co. was launched in June 2020, several months after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although sales were quiet for the first few months, the business has steadily grown as more people become aware of it.

Tetz sees the trend as forming customer habits that will last long after the pandemic is over. “The customers really want to know and understand the food production system. They want to know what they put in their bodies.”

She and Greg have a list of things they want to do in the future. However, as someone who also has a separate career in finance, Tetz knows growth that occurs too rapidly can hurt a business.

“Right now, we just want to provide a great product to all the customers that have ordered. … After that, I think the sky’s the limit.”

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