Traceability is your Friend
I’ve told you how you can sell more meat by entering the niche meat market and adding value to your product in some way. Identity and source are the main ways consumers are going to judge your product’s quality and ethics. How do you find out whether a product has been raised humanely, in a sustainable way, locally, etc? You find out where it came from.
At my job, traceability is the law. I fill out a form at every stage of the process, sometimes amounting to over 10 forms per animal: One when they show up, when they are slaughtered, hanging in the cooler, cut sheets, processing, freezer storage, cooked product, microbial testing, bagged and labelled. The carcass ID # follows the animal through each stage, from when they come off the trailer to when they are packed into coolers and brought home or to market.
When selling meat wholesale or retail, the carcass ID number just has to be on the forms, not on the label, however the USDA packing facility ID # does. This means that every piece of meat in the grocery store has a unique identity telling you who killed it and cut it. You can visit this USDA website and be able to look up the processing facility of origin either by ID # or alphabetically by name. Additionally, once you find out the facility, you can then look up their safety track record on their own and any of these various recall sites, and use that information to guide your purchasing decisions.
Once the meat leaves the processing facility and enters the retail stream, the origin ID # becomes something much more than the law: It becomes a mechanism by which consumers can find out the “product identity” of what they are buying. Don’t underestimate the ability for consumers to research the products they are purchasing beyond just reading a label. Information is more available than ever and will continue to be, thanks to the ole intraweb.
Companies that take traceability seriously and easily embrace the positive effects that transparency can have on their business will continue to capture more of the conscious consumer segment. This segment of meat-eaters are generally more educated about food purchasing decisions and they will be able to tell when a company is hiding something or is green-washing (aka faking it). Remember, the conscious consumer is the one that wants to know about the life of the animal, the quality of the product, the impact on the environment, and the health values - all things that in producer’s terms mean CHA-CHING: willingness to pay more. A fancy label won’t fool them; they have more $ to spend on food for a reason (aka they’re not stupid).
Although the traceability websites from the government are not exactly user-friendly, they are thorough and they are the law. We will start to see demand for taking this information to the next level. Free million-dollar idea spoiler alert!: an app that scans ID#s in the grocery store and can tell you the processor, their recall track record, even give it a score based on its origin and price per value.
Instead of digging in your heels against a trend for more information that is inevitable, beat them to the punch by asking yourself, “Would I be proud to show my farm or processing facility on the 5 oclock news?” If the answer is no, start to figure out what you need to do to get there.