Adding Value to Grassfed Beef Niche Marketing Efforts

Final Report for EW04-012

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2004: $60,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Cynthia Daley
California State University, Chico
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Project Information


The grassroots efforts by western ranching families to produce an “all natural grass-fed” product have become popular with specific sectors of the consuming public. We support sustainable agriculture practices by enhancing the marketing opportunities of grass-fed beef producers and their families through the training and education of growers and extension personnel on the potential health benefits of grass-fed beef products through workshops, product analysis, label development, refereed and popular press publications and the development and maintenance of an informational website covering a broad range topics pertinent to Niche Marketing in the meat industry.

Project Objectives:

1.We have and will continue to provide training and education for producers and extension personnel on all aspects of grass-fed beef production through our educational website: Through this website, producers, extension personnel, and consumers can find the following information:

•Proceedings to the 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 Niche Marketing Conferences covering a broad range of topics, including (but not limited to) Niche Marketing Trends, Niche Marketing Options, Process Verification, Labeling Process and USDA Regulations, Niche Marketing Case Studies, Economics, Business Planning, Meat Processing, Meat Quality Assessments, Food Safety and Feeds to for growth and product quality.

•Labeling meat products according to USDA guidelines – the easy method. How to create your own label, process verification, FSIS regulations.

•How to prepare Grass-fed meat products: recipes have been provided for just about every cut.

•Research – a comprehensive listing of published work in the area of grass-fed meat production in the following areas:
o Effect of diet on lipid profiles in the final meat product;
o Health and nutrition literature at it relates to Grass-fed meat
o Marketing
o Forages and Performance
o Carcass quality and consumer taste panels.

• Producer links and contact information. This section is limited to those producers who personally request a listing.

2.We have provided training and education for producers and other extension personnel on all aspects of grass-fed meat production through a series of annual Niche Marketing Conferences (2-3 day conference), the proceedings of each conference are posted to the Grass-fed Beef Website. Attendance has ranged between 30-125/day. The composition of the attendees has included producers, alliance and meat cooperative representatives, retailers, processors, extension personnel, students, and academics.

Based on conference attendee feedback, we are hitting the target with regard to the topics producers are interested in. They find the information useful, however we need to work on improving the value of our written materials and provide more examples of direct applications to Niche Marketing situations, perhaps using case-studies to exemplify concepts.

2006 Survey – Niche Marketing Conference Poor Fair Good Excellent

Were you satisfied with the material covered? 0% 4% 57% 39%

Did the event increase or enhance your knowledge of the subject? 0% 8% 48% 44%

Do you expect to use what you have gained in this event in your work? 0% 8% 42% 50%

Were the handouts materials useful to you? 5% 14% 24% 57%

Conference Overall? 0% 4% 44% 52%

3. We have completed a review of literature regarding the potential health benefits of grass-fed beef products and have posted this review on our informational website: . This review has been accepted for publication with the Nutrition Journal, and is currently in the revision process. This review will help growers justify “value-added” claims with regard to Omega-3, CLA, and Vitamins A and E (a copy of this review is attached to the final report).

Data from this project will be presented at the National Grass-fed Conference in Pennsylvania, March 2, 2007.

4.We have generated a full lipid profile for 7 cooperator herds (see attachments).

5.We have completed the approval process for a “value-added” nutrition label for a Natural, Grass-fed beef product with an Omega-3 content label. Having been through the process, we can now provide guidance on how this can be done for other producers. We now also understand the pitfalls associated with label submissions, the limitations associated with label meat and poultry and will provide this summary on the website. This information will go out in a popular press article. To date, we have provided support for three producer groups working to generate Omega-3 labeling for their respective grass-fed products following our protocol, we are hopeful that more will benefit from this process as it matures and is promoted through the website and future Niche Marketing Conferences.

Additional objectives completed beyond project scope.

1.We have completed laboratory assessment and data analysis to support the claim that grass-fed beef products contain elevated levels of Omega-3 and CLA at all degrees of fatness. This data will provide a peer reviewed publication.

2.We have completed laboratory assessments and data analysis on the effect of ration on lipid profiles in steers (grain; grain/grass, and grass only). This data will provide a peer reviewed publication.

3.Unofficial producer taste panel was conducted at the Niche Marketing conference to determine preferences between grass-fed and grain-fed steaks among growers (see attached).


The “Natural” and “Organic” markets within the beef industry currently reports a 24% annual growth rate and shows strong annual sales revenues of over $350 million. These types of Niche markets may provide a more financially rewarding alternative for small to mid-sized producers who are unable to compete with the low margins received in commodity markets. To be successful, niche marketers must differentiate their product, e.g., tell a story to promote their product (story beef), or provide brand recognition associated with a specific production method.

In the US, there are approximately 1,200 beef producers who market 24,000 grass-fed beef cattle, most of which also fall under the “natural” sub-category. Many of these producers market their grass-fed project with off-label claims of potential health benefits although no definitive studies have been completed in humans to substantiate these claims. There has, however, been a number of reports spanning three decades to suggest forage-only diets can alter the lipid composition of meat, i.e., lower concentrations of saturated fatty acids (SFAs) and higher concentrations of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), providing a more favorable lipid profile for human health and nutrition.

In addition, several studies report forage-fed meat contains elevated concentrations of beta-carotene and alpha tocopherol, as well as higher concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids (n-3) and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), all substances reported to have highly favorable effects on human health. Data collected and analyzed from cooperators in Northern California would support these earlier findings, validating that grass-fed beef, or beef finished on 100% roughage sources, is higher in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and omega-3 fatty acids (n-3) as compared to conventional grain-fed cattle when lipids are compared on a percent of total lipid basis. Proportionately, grass-fed beef contains less saturated fatty acids (SFA’s) and more polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA’s) than grain-fed beef, producing a more desirable or healthful lipid profile and is consistent regardless of degree of fatness of the carcass.

There is a need to assist growers with information and technology transfer regarding marketing strategies, labeling and business planning related to grass-fed niche marketing. To this end, we have accomplished the following project objectives:

Education & Outreach Initiatives



1.Educational Website can be found at, maintained on the CSU Chico server as a service to the industry. This site will continue to be maintained and updated by CSU Chico personnel. As new information is published regarding grass-fed meat production, articles will be posted to the website in the appropriate category.

Niche Marketing Conferences: Conferences were coordinated as a collaborative effort with University of California Cooperative Extension Agents Roger Ingram (Placer/Nevada County) and Glenn Nader (Butte, Yuba and Sutter Counties) as the lead. Several conference calls were conducted throughout the year. California State University Chico provided input, financial support, research data, and location for the last two conferences. Plans are underway to coordinate the 2007 Niche Marketing Conference, to be held in March at the CSU Chico University Farm. Agenda’s for each conference is attached.

At the 2005 Niche Marketing Conference, a 3 day event was co-sponsored to cover product quality and marketing which included a hands-on session where producers were able to break carcasses into primals and then address the issue of trim, the cost of excess trim, and the cost of low quality carcasses. This was a unique experience where producers could see first hand the issues related to converting their livestock into a marketable product.

2.Nutritional Benefit Literature Review: A number of electronic databases were used to obtain over a 100 refereed journal articles pertinent to the review of current literature to summarize the nutritional content of grass-fed or grass-finished meat products. Articles were summarized and posted on the informational website. This particular article was recently accepted (with revisions) to the Nutrition Journal for publication.

3.Lipid Profile Assessments for producers: Meat samples were obtained from participating producers for laboratory assessment of lipid profiles. Each sample was evaluated in triplicate following the procedure followed by Realini, et al. 2004. Briefly, lipids were extracted from each sample using a 10:1 ratio of chloroform-methanol. Extracts containing approximately 25 mg of lipid was converted to fatty acid methyl esters (FAME) and analyzed using a HP6890 (Hewlett-Packard) gas chromatograph and separated using a 10-m SP 2560 capillary column. The injector and detector were maintained at 250oC. Hydrogen was the carrier gas at a flow rate of about 1 ml/min. Individual fatty acids were identified by comparison of retention times with standards obtained from Sigma (Sigma, St. Louis, MO). Data was analyzed and reports were generated for producers.

4.We have obtained one of the first “omega-3” label claims for our natural, grass-fed beef product through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service. USDA standards have been posted to the Website for producer review. We completed form FSIS 7234-1 and attached the following information to our application:

a.Sketch or mock up of the label itself (including safe handling instructions, expiration date, USDA inspection logo, our label claim, i.e., Natural, Grass-fed, Omega-3 content/serving in grams, a place for the net weight, price and cut of meat;
b. Attach laboratory analysis of omega-3 content from a certified laboratory (Silliker, Inc., Northern California Laboratory, 1548 Cummins Drive, Modesto, CA 95358);
c. Production guidelines and production protocol for “grass-fed” label claim (verification for what you consider to be grass-fed”;
d. Production guidelines and production protocol for the “natural” label claim (verification).
e. Send the entire package to USDA, FSIS, OPPDE, Labeling and consumer Protection Staff 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Room 614, Annex Building, Washington, DC 20250-3700.

Outreach and Publications

Publications and Outreach

•Informational Grass-fed Website is operational and updated on a continual basis.

•Proceedings for the last 4 Niche Marketing Conferences have been posted to the Website for general consumption.

•Refereed Review Journal Article entitled “Value Added Components of Grass-fed Meat Products” has been accepted for publication by the Nutrition Journal (in the revision stages).

•Effect of ration on lipid profiles in finishing steers. Manuscript in progress. Data analysis is complete.

•Does the degree of fatness affect lipid profiles in grain and grass-fed steers. Manuscript in progress. Data analysis complete.

•Completed several presentations at local producer functions to disseminate information.

Outcomes and impacts:

The project accomplished all 5 objectives originally stated in the proposal plus 3 additional objectives that were not stated in the original proposal. The impact of these accomplishments will be an increase in the number of grass-fed producers using “omega-3” labeling to enhance the marketability of grass-fed meat products. Currently, we are working with three of our cooperators to assist in this process, others will follow.

Additional impacts, as consumers become aware of the omega-3 labeling on grass-fed meat products they will come to recognize grass-fed products as a source of omega-3 in their diet also enhancing the marketability of grass-fed products. The promotion of the “Value-Added Nutrient” article in the popular press will also increase consumer awareness of the added nutritional value grass-fed products offer.

Thirdly, this project has led to a follow-up study that will be conducted in the Spring of 2007 to examine the true impact of grass-fed omega-3 labeling through a “will-pay” consumer purchasing project where consumers will be given a choice of three labels: 1) Grain-fed hamburger; 2) Grass-fed hamburger; and 3) Grass-fed hamburger, (with omega-3 label), offered at the same price. The dominant sales will dictate price the following week. Each week the dominant sales item will be increase $1.00/lb to determine how much more consumers are “willing” to pay for each label.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

•Website is operational and current, assisting producers and consumers with valuable information for production, marketing and consuming grass-fed meat products.

•Lipid analysis has been completed for grass-fed producers interested in health benefit label claim through USDA. Reports have been generated.

•Met with grass-fed producer groups regarding health benefit label claims

•Met with Ron Daines, Western SARE communications specialist on progress to date.

•Completed the 2005 & 2006 Niche Marketing Conference on grass-fed beef products: a 3 day event to cover topics related to lipid profiles, health benefit label claims, USDA labeling regulations, grass-fed beef product quality, issues related to marketing grass-fed beef, economics of processing grass-fed meat products.

•Plans have been made for the 2007 Niche Marketing Conference.

•Obtained approval from USDA/FSIS for a Omega-3 label claim to develop a “how-to” protocol we will share on the website.


Potential Contributions


•Facilitated the meeting between WGB cooperative and a new retailer at our 2004 Niche Marketing seminar which has created a new and larger outlet for their grass-fed beef product. This type of networking between producer groups and retailers is critical to the success of these growers.

• WGB cooperative has submitted label claim for elevated Omega-3 with the help and assistance of this project.

•Survey assessment of growers at the 2005 Niche Marketing Conference was extremely encouraging. On a scale of 1 – 5, we averaged a 4 on questions related to information relevance to improving their product quality and marketing strategies.

•Improved knowledge and dissemination of scientific research through the website has provided the justification for health benefit label claims related to lipid content, Omega 3 and CLA fatty acid composition of grass-fed meat products – thus “adding value” to marketing efforts.

•There have been a number of extension personnel involved in these conferences thus improving the general knowledge of the grass-fed meat movement and niche marketing efforts.

Future Recommendations

We have been able to derive much information from the datasets produced from this project and it has generated ideas for two spin-off studies designed to further enhance product quality and marketability of grass-fed meat.

We hypothesis that the current meat processing protocols conducted at most slaughter facilities are not compatible with the lean carcasses generated through grass-finish production systems. We believe that slowing down the production line to accommodate a slow-cool, prior to carcass chilling, will reduce cold shortening and enhance carcass tenderness on lean carcasses produced through grass-based production systems. Rapid chills on lean carcasses (i.e., grass-fed) contribute to cold shortening and produce a carcass with lower tenderness ratings.

As a second hypothesis, we propose that the omega-3 claim on grass-fed labels will enhance the marketability of grass-fed meat. We propose to conduct a “will-pay” study to assess how much the consumer is willing to pay for a product with omega-3 labeling.

Acknowledgement and Thanks:
On behalf of myself and my colleagues, I would like to sincerely thank Western Regional Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program for the opportunity to complete this work, it is important to the producers I work with and will certainly help to make them more successful with their move toward more sustainable production practices. Your encouragement and support is greatly appreciated and I look forward to working with you in the future.

Respectfully submitted,

Cynthia A. Daley

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.