Direct marketing of livestock products is a venture that can provide additional income if done correctly. There are four key steps involved in this type of marketing: (1) identify your market and the laws for selling, (2) choose a meat processor, (3) develop strategies to promote your product, and (4) communicate what you have to offer correctly and concisely.
Step 1: Identify Your Market and the Laws for Selling
Who are the people most likely to buy your product, and how will you reach them? Do you have access to sell retail cuts at local farmers markets? Do you know interested coworkers and neighbors who may like to buy halves and quarters or go in together on an entire animal? Do you have the ability to pre-sell products online to local buyers?
Each market opportunity has its advantages and disadvantages. Try to estimate how much product you can reasonably sell within each market before you start processing and packaging your product(s). If you choose to sell packaged meat, you will need to have adequate cold storage to maintain inventory. Also, be aware that some cuts will sell better than others, and this can lead to an abundance of certain packages. Ideally, it is better to have a few orders to fill before you move to the processing step.
Familiarize yourself with local, state, and federal laws pertaining to selling direct to consumers. These laws will affect how you package, label, and sell your product. You will most likely need to create and submit a label to the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service. A template for creating a label is available on the Clemson University Livestock and Poultry Health website. An application to submit the label is available online, and common questions about the labeling procedures are available on the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service website. Processors are also helpful in getting a label approved (Step 2).
Step 2: Choose a Meat Processor
Federally and State Inspected Processors
If you want to sell your product across state lines or through wholesale channels to restaurants, you will need to find a federally inspected processor. If you want to sell freezer products to neighbors and friends or at farmers markets, the state inspected options are usually adequate since you will not be shipping products across state lines. A list of meat processors in South Carolina is available on the Clemson University Livestock and Poultry Health website. The list includes state inspected processor locations. If you wish to find a federally inspected processor, the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service has a directory on their website.
Processors in our state offer a wide range of services and capabilities. Communicate with your processor about any further processing options (i.e., smoked product, custom sausages, cured products, etc.), as well as how you would like your product packaged (butcher paper vs. vacuum packaging.) Depending on what species of animal you are processing, be sure to clearly communicate expectations (i.e., aging times for beef). Also, ask if the processor can help with labeling your meat products, as some perform this service.
It is important to contact a processor as soon as possible to reserve an appointment time to bring your animals in, especially if you only have a few to be processed. Some processors may have a long waiting list.
Step 3: Develop Strategies to Promote Your Product
Create an advertising plan that will outline how you are going to get the word out that you have product to sell. Does your farm have a social media account or a website, and is your phone number easy to find so that buyers can call in orders?
Differentiate your product by giving it a ‘brand’, as you may not be able to compete on price with a grocery meat counter. Find those items that appeal to your market and highlight selling points. Are there unique genetic aspects of your animals? Does your farm have a long, storied history? Find a way to explain to your customers why your product is better than what can be found at the grocery meat counter. Are your animals grass-fed, do you practice a natural or organic process? Emphasize your product as being ‘locally grown’, and look into becoming a Certified South Carolina Grown member if you are not already (www.certifiedsc.com). Be sure that you understand what is involved with each marketing opportunity and what the actions on your end should be.
Create a professional appearance. If you plan on offering individual meat cuts, explore ideas for creating an attractive farm label and logo if you do not have one. Learn from your customers, as package size, cut preferences, and packaging material are often tailored to specific customer needs. The use of brochures, business cards, vinyl signs on your vehicles, and banners for your tent at the farmers market will also help you stand out. The goal of selling yourself and your product should be to gain long term customer loyalty.
Step 4: Communicate What You Have to Offer Correctly and Concisely
Most consumers are not well versed in how to buy meat outside of a grocery store. You may need to educate them on how the product was raised, processed, packaged, and priced. Also, make sure your customers understand time limitations due to the availability of finished animals and/or the processor’s workload. This may differ drastically when selling halves and quarters versus retail cuts.
When marketing a whole, half, or quarter animal, it is important to communicate the expected yield amount to the customer. At a minimum, does the customer have adequate storage? Also, help the customer understand some key points about the animal (table 1):
- live weight: what the animal weighed before being sent to the processor
- dressed or carcass weight: after slaughter and before cutting
- packaged weight: pounds of packaged meat (including bone-in cuts) after cutting
- boneless meat: how much boneless meat (if requested)
Table 1. Typical processing losses and what to expect in terms of pounds of meat per animal.*
|Species||Live Weight||Dressing %||Carcass Weight||Cut Out %||Packaged Meat||Bone Out %||Boneless Meat|
|Lamb||127||52%||66||75%||50||Not Available||Not Available|
Source: “The butcher kept your meat”; Christopher Raines, Pennsylvania State University. Note: Depending on preferences for bone-in cuts versus boneless, the amount of organ meats desired, the skill of the butcher, and the amount of fat preferred can cause these yields to vary.
Most processors will cut the carcass into retail meat cuts according to what the customer wants. Familiarize yourself with the various cuts of as pertaining to beef, lamb, and pork. This will help you in selling your customer the cuts they will enjoy the most. Recently, Clemson partnered with Range Meat Academy® to update beef, pork, and lamb cut sheets. These cut sheets are available on the Clemson Agribusiness Program Team website.
Will Direct Marketing Work for You?
Direct marketing farm products takes patience and persistence. Those that have been successful in building a brand have usually spent years doing so. If you are in this for the long haul, enjoy selling your products, and are looking for additional income, then this may be the opportunity you are looking for.
Contact Us for Assistance
Matthew J. Fischer – Upstate Agribusiness Agent, Agribusiness Program Team. Pickens County Cooperative Extension Office. Fisch3@clemson.edu. 864-898-8326 office.
Steven Richards – Agribusiness Extension Associate, Agribusiness Program Team at Sandhill Research and Education Center. 900 Clemson Road, Columbia, SC 29229. Stricha@clemson.edu. 315-573-8632 cell.
Brian Bolt, PhD – Livestock Specialist, Livestock and Forages Program Team. Clemson University campus. Bolt@clemson.edu. 864-934-2104 office.
More resources for marketing livestock products are available on the Agribusiness Program Team website.
NOTE: Due to the time-sensitive nature of this information, this publication was not put through the formal Land-Grant Press peer-review process.