“A lot of people have concerns about different aspects of meat, and I think a lot of those come down to feedlots” and industrial animal agriculture, “which are a profoundly unpleasant way to think about food and what you are putting in your body, the impact it has on your health – not to mention the health of the animals and the world,” said Crowd Cow Co-founder Ethan Lowry.
“These are all very legitimate concerns,” that were the genesis for Crowd Cow along with the “disparity between what people think they are getting when they buy meat with a label that has a picture of a happy looking animal in a beautiful, bucolic setting and then what they are actually getting,” he added.
He explained at Crowd Cow “what we try do is say, well, hey, there really are farms doing it the way that many labels would purport, and we have found them and gotten to know the farmers,” and can now deliver their craft cuts of non-commodity meat to consumers’ doorsteps.
“We have pasture raised chicken, pasture raised pork and pasture raised beef that is both 100% grass fed or grass-fed and grain finished,” that consumers pick based on where and how it was raised, he said.
By sourcing whole animals directly from small farmers, Crowd Cow also is able to offer consumers cuts that they might not be able to find easily or at all in traditional retail stores, such as cow’s tongue or hanger steak or some of the other rarer pieces, Lowry said
And based on early consumer response and Crowd Cow’s rapid growth over its three-year lifespan, Lowry predicts craft cuts – like those offered by his company – are the future of animal protein.
“Consumers are our focus and part of what we serve the consumer is their demand for non-commodity products, which is something we want to foster because we believe ultimately that will pull us all along,” he said.
For support, he pointed to the rise of craft cheese, wine, chocolate and other products in the US, including beer, which 15 years ago was niche, but now makes up 20% of revenue for the segment in America.
Health concerns drive demand for craft
Increasing consumer focus on health and wellness also will drive interest in craft meat, Lowry predicts.
“There is a huge movement on health and you have paleo and keto diets that are often looking for grass fed varieties, as there are a lot of studies that indicate there are benefits to eating healthier meat … and that is something we can serve very well,” Lowry said.
He also noted that consumer frustration and growing distrust of labels on meat is pushing more shoppers to buy craft products that they feel like they can better trust. For example, he noted, consumers are starting to understand that pasture-raised and free-range chickens might not actually be able to roam open fields as they would in nature and they might not eat a so-called natural diet.
Similarly, consumers are starting to tune in that when something claims to be grass-fed that could mean its diet was only partially grass and it does not guarantee that the animal ate the grass while roaming an open field, he said.
“People are becoming more aware and they are annoyed … and so I think that is driving people to want more information than what is on the label,” and Crowd Cow can provide that through video interviews with the farmers where it sources its meat and more in-depth descriptions of the products and how the animals were cared for while alive, Lowry said.
While Crowd Cow is only about three years old, Lowry says it is ready to meet growing consumer demand for craft meat after having fine-tuned algorithms for sourcing, storing and shipping product, and expanding its network of providers.
Earlier this year, the company also raised $8 million in series A financing from Madrona Venture Group, Ashton Kutcher & Guy Oseary’s Sound Ventures and other existing investors, such as Joe Montana of Liquid 2 Ventures.
The money has helped Crowd Cow add new ranches and farms to its online platform, improve its supply chain innovation and find new flavor categories, including within craft beef, pastured chicken and heritage pork.
Going forward, Lowry says that Crowd Cow will continue to fine-tune the basics and look for ways to involve more farms that currently may be too small or have other challenges that have stopped the company from featuring them on its platform.
In addition, he said, the company will explore selling through wholesale, which is where 50% of meat in America is currently sold.
“We are eager to see that part of the business mature,” he said, adding, “I would expect that to happen in the next few years.”