“Etsy of Meat” Provides New Options for Consumers
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, a farmer and businessman from southeast Iowa came up with an idea that has now grown into an expanding online marketplace known as ChopLocal.
For turkey farmer Jared Achen of Wayland, Iowa, supply chain challenges kept him up at night so he began brainstorming ways farmers could survive these tumultuous times.
“At the same time that farmers had no markets for their livestock, consumers were struggling to get the meat they wanted from grocery stores. I knew there had to be a better system to connect the farmers who have meat with the consumers who want it,” Achen says.
He raises turkeys as a shareholder for West Liberty Foods, a turkey processing company and further processor of protein. Together with co-founder Katie Olthoff, ChopLocal was launched in December with a goal to make it easier to buy and sell high-quality meat online.
(L to R): Joe and Brenda Brewer and Emily and Jeff Wynn are creating new opportunities for their family farm through ChopLocal.
Meet the Brewer Family
Just outside of Dallas Center, Iowa, Brewer Family Farms has been raising cattle and hogs for five generations. Their cattle herd consists primarily of Limousin genetics, but they’ve recently added in some Angus-based cows. They custom-finish hogs in three hog barns. For years, family and friends have enjoyed Brewer Farms’ family-raised beef and pork. But once their children, Joe and Emily, returned home from college, the idea of adding a meat business was born.
“I’ve always dreamed of opening a meat locker and my brother Joe was the cattle farmer in our family,” Emily (Brewer) Wynn explains. “So, putting a business plan together was easy with the support of our parents Dan (the hog farmer) and Linda. Now Joe’s wife, Brenda, and my husband, Jeff, are also actively involved in our business.”
But, like many, when COVID-19 struck they were faced with some new challenges as meat producers.
“In a time when everyone was trying to figure out how to make the best out the situation at hand, for us as meat producers, it became very busy trying to keep up with demand,” Wynn says. “When grocery stores were having a hard time keeping food on the shelf, so were we with more and more consumers wanting to get their food straight from the source.”
Admittedly, she says it has been a great time to be in the meat business as consumers over the past year have really been reaching out and wanting to know more about where their meat comes from and want to support small and local.
But trying to balance the pandemic demand while considering long-term how to expand into new markets has been trying at times.
“We have been looking for other outlets and markets to expand into. We have been primarily focused on building our business through local farmers’ markets, our Facebook page and two food stands on RAGBRAI (the big bike ride across Iowa) each summer,” Wynn says. “When we saw what ChopLocal was offering us as producers, it was a good fit. We needed help with marketing and shipping suggestions and that is what their focus is.”
The Brewer family custom-finish hogs at their farm located near Dallas Center, Iowa.
How it Works
ChopLocal is a one-stop shop that connects meat producers with customers across Iowa. The marketplace allows customers to order from multiple farms/businesses at once for pick-up or delivery.
Support for the farmers and vendors is a key part of ChopLocal’s mission, Olthoff says. From shipping logistics to best-practices for increasing sales, ChopLocal is able to provide services for small businesses that they can’t find elsewhere.
Each vendor has their own “microstore” – similar to Etsy – where they can share more information about their farm or business. This helps customers know exactly who they are ordering from, whether it is a farmer or small meat shop.
“It’s really important to us that our vendors can tell their story and maintain their identity,” says Olthoff, who serves as the Director of Marketing and Vendor Relations. “We want to highlight the farmers and small businesses that make up this alternative meat supply chain.”
Currently the store features Iowa farmers selling everything from beef and pork to gourmet bacon and rabbit. New vendors are being added regularly and ChopLocal plans to expand out of its home state in early 2021.
“For us, ChopLocal is a great way to expand our customer base and reach more and more who want to know where their food comes from. It also allows meat consumers to see all the choices that are out there and what each famer, locker or business is doing and how they are doing it,” Wynn says.
As a meat producer, vendors have to be either state or federally inspected to sell meat direct to consumers.
“At Brewer Family Farms, we work with a local locker that is USDA inspected, which in turn allows us to sell our meat outside of Iowa. So being a partner on ChopLocal has been a great asset in that challenge of getting word outside of our normal customer base.”
Pork breakfast brats by Brewer Family Farms.
How’s Business Going?
Brewer Family Farms has been selling on ChopLocal for just over a month now and the traffic to the site has been consistent, Wynn says.
“We offered some Prime Rib Roast at Christmas along with some meat (beef and pork) packages and partnered with a local creamery to offer some meat and cheese packages as well,” she says. “Those all were huge hits around the holiday season.”
Personally, she thinks consumers will find ChopLocal appealing because of all the choices it offers.
“You can pick up a package of pork breakfast sausage, flavored bacon, beef sticks, a whole chicken and even rabbit all in one shop!” Wynn explains.
The Brewers believe the trend of buying local and knowing more about where your food comes from will continue to gain momentum. In addition, convenience is key.
“What’s more convenient then buying all your meat in one place and having it shipped directly to your doorstep or even dropped off with a smile?” Wynn asks. “Big picture, we are all agricultural producers and need to work together to keep consumer confidence high in buying direct from our farms and local businesses. It is important to offer consumers options and make their meat buying as simple as possible.”
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