Study examines meat retailing opportunities for farmers

Published 4:57 pm Tuesday, April 26, 2022

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More than two years after the abrupt arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, the market for direct-to-consumer meat sales continues to flourish.

In response to food-related supply chain disruptions in the early months of the pandemic, consumers looked beyond traditional grocery outlets to find meat products. In some cases, shoppers turned to local farmers to fill that void.

“The disruptions resulting from the pandemic have further increased consumer demand and interest for locally produced meats,” said Tony Banks, senior assistant director of agriculture, development and innovation for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

“This increased demand presents a unique opportunity for farmers to expand their retail sales of meat products directly to consumers,” he added. “And, as a result of supply chain disruptions, Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have launched new initiatives to improve meat and poultry processing capacity among small- to medium-sized businesses in an effort to enhance supply chain resiliency.”

Despite having proposals in place to help increase capacity, meat processing continues to be heavily regulated due to raw meat and poultry safe handling concerns. These regulations can create barriers for farmers to direct-market their meat.

To identify barriers and help farmers learn the requirements to sell processed meat, the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation, and Rural Sustainability conducted a retail meat sales study.

The study examined three retail formats — farmers markets or roadside stands, on-farm stores and on-farm butcher shops—and identified required permits and regulations for each. The study also serves as a guide for farmers and other interested parties to consider the logistics of operating a retail enterprise.

“All three models have the potential to be profitable,” Banks noted. “However, each model has its own unique opportunities and challenges, and all require access to qualified labor, a reliable and steady supply of meat or poultry, and a strong commitment to marketing.”

Meat processing requires a large amount of capital, so interested Virginia farmers can partner with their local government to apply for grants from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund. Grant funding can be leveraged to construct new processing facilities, expand existing facilities or to plan and establish retail facilities, Banks said.

Gov. Glenn Younkin announced March 10 that Madison County’s Hidden Pines Meat Processing LLC received a $40,000 AFID grant to expand its operations to meet “surging consumer demand for locally produced meats.”

The grant is expected to enable the company to improve their processing volume to over 1,100 locally raised beef cattle, goats, hogs and lambs each year.

“The pandemic has presented many challenges to Virginia’s agricultural community. This is especially true of those livestock producers whose livelihoods rely on being able to process and sell their animals locally,” said Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Matthew Lohr. “By making strategic investments like this to help grow the commonwealth’s meat processing capacity, we are creating important new market opportunities for our farmers, as well as local options for our consumers.”