A “farm-to-fork” retailer in Ontario is looking to take a bite—or at least a small nibble—out of grocers’ meat and poultry sales with a bulk-purchasing service that eliminates stores as a link between farmers and customers.
Representing family-run farms in Stayner (beef), Sarnia (pork) and the Niagara Region (poultry), Barrie-based Nutrafarms offers customizable orders of organic, hormone-free and antibiotic-free meat. The company’s farmers have also eschewed factory-farming techniques and kept with old-fashioned methods to deliver a healthier, more humane product.
At Nutrafarms’ eighth-generation family farm in Stayner for example, cows and their calves graze in fields with minimal human interaction. At the company’s pig farm, sows and their piglets have a barn with straw beds instead of a mass-production pen with metal grates for floors.
As well, when it comes to local, Nutrafarms minimizes the distance (within 20-30 km) between the producers and where the animals are processed. The result is a reduction in the stress, adrenaline and fatigue on the animals, according to Dave Steele, VP of sales and marketing at Nutrafarms.
It’s a time-consuming approach, but Steele said there’s nobody else in Ontario that is basically a farm-to-fork operation. “And that’s our niche: accountability from the time an animal is born to the time it’s on your plate.”
When a household signs up with Nutrafarms, a sales rep comes to the home to create an order based on weekly consumption estimates. This could range from a two-person package that could last up to 10 months to a five-person order that may last two months. The company can also provide a freezer ($150) as an option. The meat comes delivered flash-frozen to ensure it has minimal water content and maximum nutrient retention.
Compared with grocery meat pricing, the smallest order averages 200-250 lbs. of meat works out to an average of $10 per pound, and includes everything from sirloin steak to ground beef. At the end of the day a customer won’t spend outside their budget, and they’ll have better food and services, said Steele.
Nutrafarms’ website (nutrafarms.ca) also points to certain advantages its service offers over grocers—including avoiding impulse buys and spending less time shopping. For now, however, Steele said the company is happy serving its niche market. “If we grow too quickly, then we’ll just end up getting purchased.” Steele said his farms are able to serve up to 3,500 customers in Barrie, London, Kitchener, Hamilton, Oshawa and Ottawa, with soon to be open Milton, Ont. The service population represents one-tenth of the average grocery store population.
A factor limiting the company’s growth is finding farms to meet its high standards of animal husbandry. “There are so few hobbyist or traditional farmers who will do it the way we’ve asked them to do it,” said Steele.