Sell Your Home-Raised Meats to Local Chefs

Use this expert advice to get your home-raised meat served up at local restaurants.

| December 2018/January 2019

  • backyard event
    Co-hosting an event is a great way to strengthen your relationship with a chef.
    Photo by Getty Images/Image Source
  • locally produced meat
    Offering high-quality, locally produced meat will give you an advantage over larger distributors.
    Photo by Kate MacLean
  • carving meat
    Value your relationship with a chef as an opportunity to get truly constructive criticism and feedback on your product.
    Photo by Getty Images/RossHelen
  • locally produced meat
    Selling directly to a restaurant eliminates the time and effort spent trying to find multiple buyers; reduces wasted product; and strengthens local business.
    Photo by Getty Images/ViktoriiaNovokhatska

  • backyard event
  • locally produced meat
  • carving meat
  • locally produced meat

Any farmer — or any small business owner, for that matter — can testify to the familiar adage that marketing and sales make up at least 50 percent of the time spent running a business. Between emails, social media posts, print ads, phone calls, and farmers markets, farmers can be left with barely enough time to grow what they’re trying so hard to sell. Streamlining this process is integral to operating a successful farm. Consolidating sales to a few prodigious points will allow you to find more time for the job you intended. Consolidation can come in various forms, including selling wholesale to a store, selling to a larger distributor, or selling directly to restaurants. Each of these options has its own particular benefits and drawbacks, but selling directly to restaurants arguably offers the most compelling advantages.

Selling locally grown meat directly to customers requires a certain amount of knowledge. You need to be knowledgeable about the ecological and economic benefits of small farms; you need to know the diet of the animal and its resulting benefits to the customers’ health; and you need to be familiar with the animal’s anatomy — the individual cuts and how to cook them. Sirloins and chops are easy sells, but there’s a whole lot of animal left after the choice cuts are gone. No farmer wants these languishing in a freezer. Not only is it ecologically unsound, but it’s also unprofitable if you aren’t able to sell the whole animal. Fortuitously, it’s in a chef’s best fiscal interest to use every part of an animal.

A Hoof in the Door

Typically, a chef works with a monthly ingredients budget. They need to fit all of their creative and innovative ideas into the economic realities of running a restaurant. Rarely can a chef compete with individual consumers on the price per pound of a ribeye. Where they can compete is with the purchase of whole and half animals — something few individual consumers have the freezer space to warrant. If a chef can commit to the purchase of a whole hog or a half cow, for example, then you can come down on the price per pound of the animal. The chef will get the primals at a reduced cost, plus the fun stuff to play around with (the tongue, tail, and everything in between). This way, you’ll sell a whole or half animal in one go. This one transaction has the potential to eliminate dozens of other sales the same carcass would’ve required if sold piecemeal.

Cultivating a relationship with a chef takes time and work, but the payoff is a reliable and knowledgeable customer with a big appetite. The biggest hurdle will be convincing a chef to go with a local producer. Oftentimes, restaurants get pantry staples from a one-stop shop distributor that can offer conventionally grown meat, veggies, and dairy. The allure of a distributor is an understandable convenience with a price to match. Chefs are growing more conscious of and excited about locally produced meat, and the farm-to-table movement is showing no sign of waning — but competing with a distributor’s price and availability is a tall task. Farmers have the advantage of superior products, and chefs will recognize this readily. To overcome the competition of a distributor, your best tactic will be to get in with a newly opened or imminently opening restaurant. The key is to form a relationship — based on quality — with the chef before they’re seduced by the convenience and price of a distributor.

To get started, research local establishments in your area that are opening soon or coming under new management. When you find one, contact the chef or owner to congratulate them on the new venture and to inquire if they’d be open to receiving a few choice samples of meat. Then, follow up with a sample cut that best illustrates your farm’s offerings. Pork chops or sirloin are always great and decadent samples. The sample is a generosity the chef will appreciate, and a canvas on which they can experiment with your product. (Be sure to time your restaurant visit so as not to interfere with meal service.) A few days later, follow up with the chef to ask for feedback about the meat and to gauge their interest. Ideally, you’ll find common ground in a shared commitment to locally produced food. Make known the availability of the product, and, if all goes well, negotiations will follow to determine a price that works for both you and the chef.

The price per pound a chef can offer to start may be significantly lower than what you could get at a farmers market, but don’t be discouraged by this. You can consider offering the first animal at a discounted rate with the understanding that the price would go up with subsequent purchases.


Fermentation Frenzy!

September 12-13, 2019
Seven Springs, Pa

Fermentation Frenzy! is produced by Fermentation magazine in conjunction with the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR. This one-and-a-half day event is jam-packed with fun and informative hands-on sessions.


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