Time and time again, the logistics of getting our meats to market is a challenge. We’ve blogged before about the challenges in navigating the lack of local meat processing to meet (meat!) the needs of our various customers. As the farm shifts toward more meat production as a main enterprise for revenue, we find ourselves relying a lot more on these outsourced services – the slaughterhouses, cut-and-wrap facilities, and smokehouses. This can get a little scary, as those other businesses are in one sense another factor that is out of our control. We used to outsource meat deliveries, and earlier this year, the company unexpectedly dropped doing deliveries for numerous ranches, which at one point we thought would end our business. It was not because of anything we had done (the company was just overwhelmed by demand for their services), and fortunately, we were able to build the capacity to fulfill that service ourselves (borrowed money and bought a refrigerated delivery van).
So when it comes to customer service and delivering your product as and when desired, it can get a little hairy being so dependent on others. We will probably never own and operate our own slaughterhouse and cut-and-wrap facility or smokehouse, so how do we maintain a good reputation with our customers when these intermediary businesses don’t come through to fulfill their promise? There are very few of these facilities, so we have no choice but to continue using them.
Anything can go wrong. Everything from not delivering our meats back when promised and a retailer is hoping to get our product on their shelves that week, to cutting the bacon thick instead of thin, or to not cutting all the bacon we asked for thus not fulfilling an order. Every time that happens, we risk losing that customer to another producer, usually a larger non-local producer who has centralized all these processes. The logistics to get our meats into food safe and pretty packages are so complicated; one place has a wait of 2 months before we can get anything cut and wrapped by them. It feels even more complicated and difficult when a promise is not delivered on, and our end buyer sees it as an unfulfilled promise by us. It is also a reason why we prefer to work with customers who are able to take whole carcasses, taking away that extra processing step.
The buyers/partners that we have a long relationship with have been understanding with us in the past, but it requires a lot more energy in getting those communication flows in place with the trust. We feel very fortunate to work with places like Bar Agricole, Ukiah Natural Foods Co-op, and Westside Renaissance Market who have an openness to understand the challenges we face and have the leeway for the unexpected. It seems that they see that as a small sacrifice to pay for delicious, healthy meats, and we are eager to find more folks who share these values!