This year has been a different one for folks in Wyoming, including our cattle producers.
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.
This situation has some producers trying new things and getting creative with 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. 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. 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. This idea is not a new one, and it has its challenges, but it is possible if you have a good plan.
Making the direct sell
There are several factors to consider if you are going to sell your own beef:
Know your market and know what makes your product unique. You must have something that convinces people your product is worth buying instead of going with a marked-down deal on a big store’s meat shelves. You can find a niche they will pay for by understanding what is important to your target market. You can market your product as locally grown, exceptional quality, grass-fed, all-natural, etc. However you decide to establish your brand, make sure it jives with what’s important to your target audience.
Understand your limitations. 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. Another priority is that you will need reservations with your packer to get your beef processed. This can be more difficult than one might expect, and plans should be confirmed well in advance. Options in Wyoming are still limited.
Have a plan on how you will sell or package your beef, and for what price. Will you sell it as a whole animal, or divide it into halves or quarters? Or will you sell mixed boxes of beef? Will you label the packages, or how do you plan to tell your products’ story? Ask yourself these questions, and make sure you have a plan on how you package your products.
This process will require time and hustle to accomplish. Finding buyers should also start well before the beef is ready. Direct-sale opportunities may be limited in Wyoming, so keep the number of retained animals realistic to make sure you can get your products sold. Also, have a plan for venues to sell the product (farmers markets, social media, etc.).
Formulating a sound business plan is very important. Reference articles that detail marketing at farmers markets and telling your products’ story. Understand the do’s and don’ts of direct-marketing your beef and protecting yourself from liability. Lastly, use your local resources. The University of Wyoming Extension offices and Small Business Development Centers are located throughout the state, and they have experienced professionals available that can help you develop your business plan for free or at a very low cost.
Plan to have plenty of extra beef in your freezer if you don’t do your homework. But if you can put in the effort, it could be worth it during a year like 2020.
More enterprise resources
Here are a few more resources for individuals considering direct-marketing their beef.
This resource discusses the do’s and don’ts of direct marketing your beef: bit.ly/direct-marketing-beef
This website offers extensive resources for those considering food ventures: bit.ly/food-ventures
This website presents value-added enterprise considerations: bit.ly/value-added-wyo
Marshall is a University of Wyoming Extension educator based in Fremont County. He serves serving northwest Wyoming.