A New Approach to Selling Sustainable Meat

The recent change of how we sell meat in the Carrboro store is part of an integrated effort to bring you fresh and nutritious meat from local North Carolina farms. As your buying agent, our mission is to bring you meat that is sustainably produced. Sustainable in this context means not only grown on local farms using ecologically-sound farming practices, it also means getting the meat from the farmers’ fields to your table in an economically viable way. For local meat to become the primary meat that we sell, farmers need to be paid a high enough price to make a good living and consumers need a consistent selection of fresh product at an affordable price.  

In the past, we have had short-term successes in selling local meat that ultimately failed because the grower was not economically successful. An example of this is Alison farms, an outstanding local chicken producer who went out of business about six months ago. Since then, we have had to substitute Pennsylvania chicken while we search for another local producer. These failures have made it clear that the starting point in selling local meat is to pay local growers a premium price so that they can be long-term partners. We’ve made a commitment to pay our meat growers a higher price than other retailers; for example, we pay our pork growers 18% more than the next-highest paying buyer.  

After establishing a sustainable price for growers, the next step was to develop a system of processing and retailing that would allow us to pay farmers more without raising our prices to consumers. If local meat is to become a popular option, we need to price it competitively with other premium meat. Instead of raising prices, we looked elsewhere for ways to become more efficient, and that led us to begin to cut and package meat for all three WSM stores at our new Food House facility. Processing meat in one location reduces costs, and has the added benefit of improving quality and safety, since the Food House was designed to provide the proper amount of storage; a climate controlled processing room; and high-grade sanitation.

The Food House also provides a ready outlet for cuts of meat that we that we don’t normally sell in the stores. When we buy beef directly from a farmer, we buy a whole cow, not just the most popular cuts of meat. In the past it has been challenging to find outlets for the cuts of meat that don’t have a high retail demand. With our meat processing co-located with our prepared foods kitchen, we can now use the other cuts of meat to make ready-to-eat meals for you. So in addition to finding top quality local pork and beef on the meat shelf, you will also find it in our prepared foods.

To sell local meat efficiently requires a method of packaging that maximizes freshness and reduces waste. Meat that has to be thrown out represents a huge loss of time, energy, and resources for farmers, WSM, and our customers alike. We have invested in a vacuum packaging system that will keep product fresh and eliminate waste (see sidebar on our new packaging).

We realize that selling pre-packaged meat is a different approach than selling meat from a service counter. However, after researching all the options, we are convinced it is a necessary means to bringing you a variety of local meat selections that you can’t find elsewhere. We are committed to providing a variety of package sizes so that you can find the amount you want, and providing top-notch information so you know where the product came from and how to cook it. Up until now Carrboro customers have only seen the absence of the service counter. You will now see the upside of our new meat program—a meat case stocked with grass fed beef and pasture-raised pork from local farms.

You can learn more about our local meat program in the brochures at the meat case and on our website, where we profile our farmers who share our commitment to stewardship of the land, humane practices, and strict quality control. One example is Parker Farms, a small farm nestled between Hillsborough and Roxboro in the Hurdle Mills area of northern Orange County. The Parker family raises their four children, their crops, and their farm animals in a wonderful, nurturing farming environment. We think that you will agree that our farmers are an outstanding group with a dedication to producing a quality product in a sustainable fashion.  

Our new local meat initiative is a partnership effort with NC Choices (www.ncchoices.com ), a project of the non-profit Center for Environmental Farming Systems, that is working with us to develop and manage a network of farmers and processors to provide a steady, year-round supply and FoodLogiQ (www.foodlogiq.com ), a Durham-based company specializing in on-demand food safety and food systems software, which provides needed expertise in meat processing, packaging and traceability systems.

Our program needs your support if responsible animal husbandry is to succeed in our area. When you make educated choices about where you shop and what you eat, you are actively shaping the world around you. Sustainable meat production is a vital link to a more sustainable food system, one that allows you to truly eat well.