Gate to Plate
Texas bison producers are giving consumers ultimate meat quality and accountability.
A number of Texas bison producers sell their product through "gate-to-plate" marketing, providing high-quality bison meat directly to the people who’ll cook it for dinner.
"This is a great way for Texans to enjoy the great taste and health benefits of bison while knowing exactly where the meat came from, how it was raised and the name of the rancher who produced it," said Tim Frasier, president of the Texas Bison Association.
"There’s been a major governmental push in recent years for source-verification of our foods," Frasier said. "Well, you can’t get any better verification than buying your bison ribeyes from the people who bred and raised the animals and then had them processed by a state or federally inspected facility."
Beverly Brown of Lucky B Bison in College Station, Texas, has been selling bison meat directly to retail customers for years.
"We have a very loyal base of customers who have bought from us for a long time," she said. "Some of them started buying it because their doctors told them to for health reasons, then they fell in love with the taste. And some of them just wanted to try something different."
With the idea of eating ‘local foods’ catching on around the country, gate-to-plate marketing makes sense for bison producers who have the time, facilities and people skills to sell to the public, Frasier said.
"A small bison rancher may not be able to supply a giant retail chain with buffalo burger patties, but he can develop a good business selling his meat to retail consumers directly. People like to do business with folks they know and trust. So it just makes sense for them to buy directly from a Texas bison producer when they can."
Brown primarily sells grass-finished bison steaks and roasts to her retail customers. Since grass-finished bison is harder to find than grain-finished meat, the primal cuts are sold almost as soon as they’re processed – sometimes sooner.
"We often have a waiting list for our tenderloins. Since a carcass only has two tenderloins, they go in a hurry. We sometimes get calls from restaurant chefs who want to order them, and we can’t help them because they’ve already been sold to our individual retail customers," she said.
Dave Carter, executive director of the National Bison Association, said direct sales, also known as ‘farm-gate’ marketing, "can include farmers’ markets, internet marketing, on-farm stores, and other forms of marketing that directly connects bison producers with bison meat customers."
Carter said there are three good reasons to buy bison meat directly from a producer.
"First, buying bison meat directly from a producer is the best form of source-verification. In the commercial retail marketplace, layers of regulations and a complex and confusing array of labels are designed to assure customers about the safety and traceability of food. Consumers who buy directly from a rancher can receive first-hand assurance about how the animal was raised, what diet it was fed, and how it was harvested.
"Second, more and more people are looking for the story behind their food. By purchasing directly from the rancher, these customers can share with their friends and neighbors the great story behind the high-quality bison meat they are serving."
Finally, Carter said, "local food is the hottest trend in the marketplace today."
"There's nothing more local than buying delicious bison meat directly from a nearby rancher. In fact, the meat buyers' directory on the National Bison Association Web site at www.bisoncentral.com continues to be one of the most heavily visited pages on our site."
Carter said a large percentage of bison producers sell directly to consumers.
"The bison business is extremely diversified," he said. "A relatively small number of larger commercial operations supply the majority of bison meat marketed in the larger retail and restaurant chains. The majority of producers across the country are relatively small, and are building their business through farm-gate marketing."
Carter said the average U.S. bison producer has fewer than 45 animals. However, he added, "These small-scale direct marketers are playing an extremely vital role in building demand for bison meat."
"Most people in the United States still haven’t enjoyed their first bite of bison," he said. "The direct marketers are on the front lines of sampling, and are providing people with an opportunity to try bison for the first time.
"As one small marketer told me, ‘We are building demand, one toothpick at a time.’"