Thursday, September 15, 2011

Marketing grass-finished beef

[banner from the Bite Beef website]

It would be wonderful to live in a world where something as good for us and as good for the environment as grass-finished beef would just sell itself and catch on like, say iPhones. Truth is, grass-finished beef needs marketing. Unfortunately, people who raise cattle are not often good at marketing (and the inverse is true too). And while meat from animals that only eat grass can be as tender and tasty as the best grain-fed beef--some would say better than--sometimes it is tough and it almost always requires the cook to take a different approach.

American grass-fed beef producers are ahead of us in Canada in the marketing department--five years ago it made the cover of Time--but we are starting to see some interesting efforts here too. From Alberta recently I heard a story about a couple of young women who have launched something they are calling Bite Beef. They are promoting the health benefits of grass-finished beef and working with local producers to get something ready for market this fall. Their website is quite sophisticated and it looks like they are hoping to sell a high-end boutique beef product to the urban foodie and restaurant markets. Here is a video and article about the two women, Nicole Lamb and Carli Baum, in the Calgary Sun. Hard to tell if they have any native grass in their operations but they refer to alphalfa a lot in their material. Ultimately, we need processing and marketing systems that will bring grass-finished beef from pasture to the supermarket at prices people will pay for food that is healthier for themselves and for prairie ecosystems.

In the meantime, any cattle removed from the industrial feedlot system and finished on grass--whether it is native or otherwise--is at least an improvement over the grain-and-drugs system most cattle are pushed through to put meat on our plates. I hope the Bite Beef people can make a go of it and show Albertans that beef raised entirely on grass is tasty and healthy.

left to right, Bite Beef's Nicole Lamb and Carli Baum

An interview with Ian Tyson on CBC Radio One last year ended with him holding out hope for the prairie if people can make the switch to grass-finished beef. You can listen to the podcast here (scroll down to hour three on the Sunday Edition when it was replayed on Jul10 this year.)

from Ian Tyson's official website

"The cowboy life is fading, and there's only a few places left where it's the real deal," Tyson said. "But if grass-finished beef can make the cover of Time magazine, who the hell knows what's going to happen? They'll need cowboys if they're going to raise grass-finished beef. They're going to have to have guys to chase them on horses."

Cattle on native grass, cowboys on horses herding them--it's an old dream but a worthy one.


  1. There is a difference between "grass fed" and "grass finished".

    Grass fed means that the animal was fed predominately on grass for it's entire life.

    Grass finished means it was only finished on grass and may not have had any until it entered it's finishing stage.

    We need to really watch when it comes to marketing speak and government regulation. If you really want the best beef you can get, look for grass fed.

  2. I know what you're saying , Paul. It is very confusing. Trouble is, some beef that is finished on grain is called "grass-fed" because the animals were fed grass for much of their lives before being sent to the feedlot. Neither term is definitive and in the U.S. they are trying to sort this out. There is a bit of an explanation at

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. And don't even get me started on the difference between "free range" and "free run".

    It seems that when language can be taken advantage of, it is. We need a plain language movement for our food sources it would seem.

    Love the blog. Do you have any updates on potatogate? I am not really that happy with the way the government here believes in their divine right to do whatever they want.

  4. Since reading Grass, Sky, Song we've been ordering half of a half of grass-fed beef from a local farmer. Earlier this summer we ran out of hamburger from our last order but because we still had other beef we thought we'd get some ground beef from our local butcher shop. I made up hamburgers for the barbecue as I usually do, handed them to my husband to grill them and then forgot that this package was the butcher shop meat. When I bit into the hamburger I couldn't believe how dry and tasteless it was. Then I remembered its origin and realized that the grass fed beef is really tasty.

    We were just on holidays in the States and did see much more advertisement of grass-fed beef. But we also saw lots of huge feed lots so they are not going away.

    I hope more people will convert over to grass-fed beef. If they don't do it for the bird preservation reasons or the health reasons then do it for the taste!

  5. Thanks for that, GM--glad to hear you are loving the good stuff. I know what you are saying about doing it for the taste, but some people I talk to say it should be marketed as "conservation grade" or "bird-friendly beef."

  6. Paul--no, I haven't heard anything definitive on Potatogate for a while. The bid process is proceeding as far as I know and nothing has changed: still no proper public process, no adherence to the government's own guidelines, no environmental accountability, no recognition that all native grassland still in government hands deserves protection.


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