“It’s not just putting up a store and hoping they’ll come.”
– ADAM DOOLEY, KEYSTONE PROCESSORS
What’s the first thing you do to get a beef roast in the oven? You head for the computer.
Manitoba’s newest beef packer has an online meat store providing consumers with home delivery of beef and bison cuts.
Keystone Processors Ltd. launched the service in early August.
The plant sells roasts, steaks, hamburger and wieners under the Natural Prairie Beef brand name. Customers can order online for delivery or pick the meat up at the plant.
The meat is a hormone-free premium product, raised locally and aged at least 21 days, said Adam Dooley, a company spokesperson.
The company’s target audience is middle-income families, as well as high-end retail and restaurant clients, he said.
Keystone Processors doesn’t have an actual kill floor yet at its Marion Street plant in St. Boniface. Provincially inspected plants elsewhere in Manitoba currently custom kill cattle for the company while it works toward developing a federally inspected facility in the next 18 to 24 months.
But even though it’s still early going, consumer response to the online meat store has been “very constructive so far,” Dooley said.
The website currently averages nearly 2,000 hits a month, with over 500 people visiting the online store, he said.
Besides a website where customers can place their orders, Keystone Processors uses other social interactive media for connections with the public.
The company has a Facebook page where it posts news about sales, provides recipes, answers questions and even holds the occasional contest, said Dooley.
On Twitter, a different kind of audience, including farmers as well as consumers, dialogues about agriculture and farm policy.
Dooley said the service is on track to become profitable but he realizes it’ll take time.
“We weren’t expecting this was going to make money right off the hop. You have to build a customer base.”
Online meat marketing has a mixed record in Manitoba. Some report success while others do not.
Prairie Orchard Farms, which specializes in omega-3 pork from hogs fed a diet rich in essential fatty acids, ran an online order service for two years but shut it down about a month ago, said company president Willy Hoffmann.
Hoffmann said he did all the right things: mailing flyers, placing newspaper ads and sending out direct mailings, but the response was limited.
“It just was not worth all the time and effort just for a few customers.”
In fact, Hoffmann said, he got more inquiries from other provinces and the U. S. than he did from Manitoba, suggesting locals may not be ready yet to buy farm-fresh meat online.
Pam Cavers, co-owner of Harborside Farms Countrystyle Natural Meats, has a different experience.
Cavers has been marketing meat online for over a year after she and her husband opened a licensed meat shop on the family farm near Pilot Mound.
The company has over 300 customer families in Winnipeg for pork, beef and lamb slaughtered at a local abattoir in Swan Lake and processed back in the meat shop. Customers order online and pay on delivery at drop-off points in the city.
Ordering meat directly from the farm resonates with a certain kind of clientele, said Cavers.
“We’ve had inquiries from other provinces because they can’t find the same thing.”
Dooley agreed that buying meat online is a relatively new concept to local consumers, unlike in the U. S. where the practice is well established.
“Winnipeggers and Manitobans aren’t as accustomed to ordering perishable food online as, say, people in New York or Boston or Chicago.”
For that reason, sellers need to engage customers and be prepared to develop a market over time, he said.
“If you’re going to be online, you have to be truly online. You have to really embrace the entire concept of interacting with your customer in this fashion.
“It’s not just putting up a store and hoping they’ll come. You have to be there. You have to talk to them.”
Another secret to success is to have a top-notch website as well as a good product. That requires special expertise, which not everyone has, said Cavers.
“Don’t just fool around, get somebody who knows what they’re doing. That’s a professional service.” [email protected]