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Making sense of our cents

I got a question this weekend from a prospective customer, "Why are your prices as high, if not higher, than grocery stores, when you've eliminated the "middle man?"

This is a great question! We sometimes get asked about the prices, and the answer is complex and multi-faceted. If you're truly interested to learn a little more about the systems we operate in, please read this whole blog-- I hope it'll be informative. If you only have a second or two, here's the main take-away:

Our beef differs from most store-bought beef in terms of quality of the meat, due to the quality of the feed the cattle were raised on, the care they receive, and for our ground beef, the cuts that we use (i.e. all the good cuts, not just the scraps and pieces). Our costs are higher because we seek out high quality ways of raising the animals, we use a small local processing facility rather than large corporate processors, and we have additional costs associated with being licensed to sell commercially direct to customers. In short, we value the opportunity to provide food directly to folks in our community, but we can't just give it away. The prices we set strike a balance between making sure our costs are covered, and that we're making it worth our time and effort to provide an opportunity for folks to purchase locally-raised, locally-processed, high-quality beef. We strive to keep costs to the consumer as low as we can, but honestly, we cannot compete with the large, corporate system.

Okay, so if you're still interested, here are more details:

1. When you're comparing prices, make sure you're comparing products of similar quality.

  • Our beef is natural, meaning it's free of antibiotics and growth hormones. Is that true of the beef you're looking at on the shelf? If it doesn't say so, it probably isn't.

  • Our beef is raised on high quality grasses and forbs, and supplemented with a little bit of locally-grown barley. Most store-bought beef comes from cattle that start out on pasture, but are finished in commercial feedlots and fed lower-quality/higher-calorie forage (corn, wheat, silage) to make it grow more quickly, reducing the time and amount of feed it takes to finish. The result is a slightly different flavor for the meat, and a different experience for the animal. The difference is also in the carbon footprint-- raising beef in Montana, shipping it to the mid-west for finishing and processing, then shipping it back to Montana to sell. The costs, dollar-wise, are cheaper when feeding fast foods. The costs, health-wise and environment-wise, are much greater.

  • Our ground beef is made from all of the cuts-- NY Strip, Chuck, Ribeye-- it's all in there together, making for a more flavorful ground beef. Most ground beef on the shelf comes from the scraps and pieces of a beef-- the shank, the trimmings off the good cuts, etc. (I'll do a future post about why we use all the cuts… stay tuned).

2. Our costs to process and sell the meat are higher than on the commercial, national food system scale.

  • Large processors finish and process beef in bulk-- like thousands of animals a day are being slaughtered and processed. When you buy beef from us, it's processed at a small family-run facility (Superior Meats), who are working their butts off to keep up with the local demand. They pay attention to each and every animal, making sure nothing goes to waste, and that their employees are cared for and paid a fair wage. As a result, it costs more per animal to process the meat, but the quality is great, and we love putting our money straight into the local economy to help out their business.

  • Selling direct to customers isn't free. In order to legally sell to customers, we must meet high standards at the state and county level, to ensure your safety. Our licensing process involves annual inspections of our required commercial freezer in a commercial facility (which we lease). To sell at farmer's markets we're required to have a temporary food service permit, which also comes with a substantial fee and inspection. And we incur costs when we drive to market, drive to the processing facility to drop off cattle and pick up the meat, and drive to our retail site to meet customers. We also occasionally pay to run an ad. All those fees add up!

3. Other values have value, too.

  • We're a small family, trying to keep the small family ranching tradition alive and keep a local food system healthy and viable. We didn't inherit the ranch. In fact, we didn't inherit anything. And we aren't subsidized by another larger corporation. We're working 80+ hours a week, year-round, to try to make this work. To keep a dream alive. We think that our efforts to raise, advertise, and sell the meat is worth a little bit of "wages" to pay ourselves (which, of course, goes right back into the ranch to improve the land, the cattle, and the equipment it takes to run things the right way.) We set our prices to keep the costs to consumers as low as we can, while still making it worth our time and effort to market and vend directly to customers locally.

  • We put our money where our values lie. We could save ourselves time and effort if we just sold our cattle to the commercial market, and did away with selling locally. But where would that leave you, our community? It would leave you att the mercy of the national food system, which we've all seen in recent times can be quite unstable if a world-shaking event occurs. We think it's important to be able to raise and sell food at the local scale. To us, it's worth a little more money to buy from someone next door, when we know that money helps their business stay alive, helps provide local food security, and helps keep our money in the local economy. We could buy a similar product at a big box store, and maybe save a buck or two. But, we care to put our money where our values lie, and that's in taking care of our neighbors. So when you buy from us, you are also helping to keep the money in the local economy, as we support other local farmers and businesses.

I hope this provides you with some deeper understanding of how the systems work, what it takes to provide local food on the local market, and little bit more about our family and where our values lie. If you choose to support our business, thank you! But if you feel that you still need to seek out less expensive options, I get it, and I thank you, too. We all have to make choices of how we spend our time, money, and energy resources. I appreciate you taking the time to learn, to understand, and to make thoughtful, informed choices!

What other questions do you have? I'd be happy to weigh in!

Triple L Livestock-- Jim, Carly, and Clay Lewis

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