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Fast-food chain partner boosts grassfed beef operation

Clara Rice Photography Scene from Richards Ranch in California
Fast growth early on encouraged the Richards family to bring other family ranchers into the business to augment supply.
California beef producer gets a corporate marketing partnership and also builds the rest of its business.

Sometimes the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence. Such is the case for the grassfed beef sector. This formerly niche sector of beef is now coming of age.

Along with this maturation, many once-conventional and new producers have come onto the scene. However, this increased competition also means established grassfed producers need to utilize more creative avenues to showcase their products.

Richards Grassfed Beef (RGB) of Oregon House, California started out like a lot of grassfed operations. A family-owned operation, siblings Carrie, Noelle, and Tom Richards, originally started their grassfed business in 2012. Friends and family were among their first customers. In a short time, though, what started as a side hustle quickly blossomed into a full-time business venture.

This success also brought challenges in maintaining supply. To bolster their beef stocks, Carrie Richards, RGB’s VP of Compliance and Marketing, reached out to the family’s cousin in Modoc County and convinced him to join them in finishing animals for the RGB brand. Along with increasing their beef supply, the trio also hired a salesperson to continue to grow their customer base.

“We’ve gotten to the point now we’re selling everything we produce and everything the Modoc County ranch produces,” says Carrie Richards. “We’re looking to grow even more.”

According to Richards, they processed around 650 animals in 2018. Their goal for 2019 is to hit 1,000. Currently, Richards sells the majority of their grassfed meat products wholesale to butcher shops, small grocers and restaurants. In addition, they’ve developed a direct-sales channel selling whole primal cuts and beef quarters online.

Along with these usual sales avenues, RGB has also been fortunate to take advantage of a unique marketing opportunity thanks to its product distributor, Cream Co. Meats. In 2017, Cream Co. owner Cliff Pollard approached the Richards with a unique opportunity - a partnership with the fast-food chain Shake Shack to create a best-in-class "California" burger made with 100% California-grown and sourced ingredients.

According to Pollard, RGB’s commitment to using holistic ranching practices and certifications from American Grassfed Association and Land-to-Market set their operation apart from other non-verified producers. Having worked with the family business for quite some time, Cream Co. has seen RGB grow from a very small family operation harvesting five to 10 head every other week to a more established and growing business that now operates their own whole-animal utilization beef company.

"Richards Grassfed Beef is our oldest California partner for grassfed, grass-finished beef," says Pollard. "They are an incredible operation and have taken a lot of right steps to set them up to work with a partner like Shake Shack. It made sense to partner them with a ranch (like RGB) that has gone the extra mile to verify their product’s integrity and whose supply chain is based completely in California."

The special burger Shake Shack created in collaboration with RGB, called the Golden State Double, featured two certified grass-fed patties from the Northern California ranch. The 200+ location global chain crafted the unique burger specifically for the opening of their first California location in Palo Alto. The restaurant invited food bloggers and social media influencers to the grand opening.

"It opened up our brand to a whole new world of people which, in turn, opened us up to all of their followers," says Richards. "On Instagram, Facebook, and a little on Twitter, we got more likes, people reaching out to us, and tagging our product. If you look on the section of our Instagram profile that shows images where people tag you, it’s just all burgers now!"

Clara Rice PhotographyCarrie Richards and husband Daniel Prelip

Carrie Richards and her husband, Daniel Prelip, say their marketing partnership with Shake Shack has been beneficial in many ways.

For a small grassfed beef producer like RGB, a partnership with a global brand like Shake Shack that has a social following near one million, this collaboration was a real gamechanger.

"It’s been amazing because we are such a tiny producer in the world of beef, if you think about it," says Richards. "To have this kind of recognition and people talking about us so much on social was really exciting."

Richards point outs she's still waiting for the full the return on investment from the partnership, but overall the experience has proven fruitful for RGB.

"We saw a slight bump in online sales after they opened the Palo Alto location," she says, "but where we've really benefited is in more brand recognition and more people talking about us."

Going forward, Richards isn’t sure they will seek out any similar partnerships, however, she plans to possibly seek out opportunities with different products. During this pursuit of new market possibilities, Pollard at Cream Co. Meats says his company plans to be along for the ride.

"Shake Shack-RGB is the biggest direct partnership we’ve orchestrated so far," says Pollard. "As companies like Shake Shack continue to reimagine supply chains and committing to better sourcing, we hope we’ll be able to help more sustainable and regenerative operations connect with large foodservice providers (like Shake Shack)."

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