Meat of the Matter: When demand > supply

Those of us who've been around awhile remember the days of relentlessly speed-dialing some 1-800 phone number over and over in the hopes of connecting with an operator at the other end selling tickets to a "must-see" rock concert.

Back in those ancient times — the 1980s — some high-volume DJ on your favorite FM superstation ("Less Talk, More Rock!") would announce that beginning at 10 am the next Tuesday, tickets would go on sale for the local appearance of Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, or U2.

At precisely 10 o'clock, you started in on the dial-tone/hit-button/busy-signal/repeat-process action for as long as it took to either score a couple overpriced stadium seats deep in the left field bleachers or receive the dreaded "We're sorry, all tickets are currently sold out" recording after investing a big chunk of your morning and a mild case of carpal tunnel syndrome trying to be one of 60,000 close, personal friends to watch the musicians through binoculars performing the "live, extended versions" of the hit songs you'd already shelled out to purchase on records, cassettes or CDs.

Ah-h-h . . . the good times.

Those days might be long gone (although none of the bands are), but an updated version of that buyer's frenzy is alive and well. Now it's conducted online with nothing more than a smartphone and a clickable link, but with the same anticipated countdown and the same resulting euphoria or disappointment.

Only without the arthritic aftermath.

And at substantially higher prices.

For this story, however, we're not talking about The Boss, but about the beef. Wagyu beef, to be precise.

That's because a specialty producer in Washington state is marketing the beef from its small herd of Wagyu cattle — steer by steer — to an online audience of buyers as hungry for their share of Tip Roasts and Tenderloins as an earlier generation was for a pair of concert tickets, and willing to fork over for price points that can go as high as $45 bucks a pound on the higher end cuts.

Here is an online post from that producer, the Magnolia Cattle Company, announcing a sale that took place last week. It's the 21st century version of the rock jock's concert countdown:

"Anyone in the states of Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming interested in buying our 100% Wagyu beef, is going to release beef from one of our steers Thursday night at 7 p.m. Beef sells out very quickly, most of it within the first 30 minutes, so if you're interested you should be signed up and waiting on before 7 pm tomorrow."

Going, going, gone

Of course, was recently profiled in this space as a new age, tech-savvy enterprise cashing in on a consumer segment keen to support local food, sustainable farming and high-end quality. This direct-to-market phenomenon in the food category is partly a product of the leverage (and convenience) of online marketing and partly a reflection of consumer dissatisfaction with the perceived downside of commercially produced, mass-marketed brands.

And now that the Seattle-based entrepreneurs running have teamed up with Magnolia Cattle Company, consumers have a chance to order "shares" of an ultra-high-end beef that's almost never sold at retail.

Check out some the deals offered on Magnolia's Wagyu product line — which, exactly as predicted, sold out entirely in a matter of minutes:

  • Ribeyes and Steaks. At about $48 a pound, this package is touted as "quality rarely made available to cook at home."
  • Flat Iron Steaks, Wagyu Roast and Ground Beef. At $19 a pound, not a bad deal for almost 6 pounds of beef, especially the "luxurious ground beef."
  • Burger Patties. Why waste time forming your own patties ‚Äî you've got websites to visit ‚Äî when you can score 5 pounds of Wagyu hamburger at only $13 a pound?

Here's the most interesting part, and it's all about the parts. markets the entire animal. Along with all the middle meats at the top of the ticket, consumers with quick fingers on their touchscreens can also order beef short ribs, shanks, tongue, heart, liver, kidneys and marrow bones suitable for making stock.

It's a combination of quality and availability that is truly unique.

And so far, enormously successful in appealing to an eager clientele anxiously awaiting notice of the next online sale.

The only thing missing is a hyped-up DJ teeing up the start time for the bidding to begin.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.