Country Natural Beef
Country Natural Beef started with 14 ranches betting there was a market for meat from responsibly-grazed cattle raised without antibiotics or growth hormones. Today Country Natural Beef has over 100 member-owners selling over $45 million of beef a year to customers including Whole Foods, New Seasons Markets, and the Burgerville restaurant chain.
“Two things make Country Natural Beef unique. We are producer owned, so all the money goes back to the ranch, and we have third-party certification. Food Alliance certification makes us hard to compete against or replicate.”
Country Natural Beef is clear that their success depends on their good reputation and the strength of their brand. “It was understood from the beginning that if anybody cheated on this thing we were all dead,” says rancher Dan Warnock. “So there was a lot of peer pressure to make sure everybody did the right thing.”
But as the cooperative grew, so did the risks. In 2000, Country Natural Beef decided that every ranch member should be certified by Food Alliance to ensure that social and environmental standards were being met. As part of the certification, ranchers also commit to continuously improving their management practices, and set goals for their land and operations. “No ranch is ever run perfectly,” Says rancher Jack Southworth. “Being a steward of the land, you are constantly reevaluating what you are doing and finding ways to do it better.” That ethic extends to humane handling of animals as well. “We have seen ourselves get quieter over the years, more patient, and just a little more relaxed. It’s good for the cattle, but it’s easier on us as well.”
With increasing consumer demand for natural beef, Country Natural Beef is likely to see increasing competition. But Jack is not worried: “Two things make Country Natural Beef unique. We are producer owned, so all the money goes back to the ranch, and we have third-party certification. Food Alliance certification makes us hard to compete against or replicate.”