Starting a niche marketing meat business is no small feat, but launching it at the beginning of a pandemic takes the challenge to a whole new level. For some time, Trish and Greg Tetz of Three Hills, Alta., had the dream of “opening the conversation between producers and consumers. We wanted to be transparent and be able to provide a financially stable life for farmers,” says Trish Tetz.
Their mission statement states that they want to showcase the best farms and ranches in Alberta and Canada. Craft Beef Co. aims to “provide easy access for customers to choose and purchase natural proteins, while maintaining and promoting the individual farm’s brand,” and clearly identify the meat as coming from the customer’s choice ranch.
The couple acknowledges that Alberta and western Canadian ranchers produce a great product. “A company like ours is there to provide more options for consumers,” says Tetz, and keep them choosing meat and feeling good about their choices.
“Farmers are great at producing, but for many marketing is not a strong suit or passion. We try to bridge the gap by taking the marketing side,” says Tetz.
The experience Greg and Trish Tetz bring to the enterprise has helped greatly. Trish is an ag manager with BMO and the face of Craft Beef Co. Her contacts in the industry helped to connect them with the producers that signed on.
Greg is a graphic designer and has his own company, M7 Designs, that focuses on moto sports. His photography, branding, design and logo development skills have played a key role. Greg prefers to be in the background. He also was set up to have the facilities for packaging and office space on the farm.
“I could not have done it without him. There would not have been enough hours in the day,” says Tetz.
The producers that make up Craft Beef Co. are unique but there are some overriding principles that they follow, such as regenerative agricultural practices. It is also important that the story of each farm stays with the product.
But trying to achieve all this has had its share of challenges.
One of the first ones they came up against was sourcing the corn-based foam liner for the shipping boxes. They try as much as possible to source local and Canadian ingredients, but in this case, to stay in alignment with the regenerative practices piece, the source was the United States.
“When COVID was announced, I was at a conference that was shut down, and learned the borders were closing. The foam packing material was on a truck headed north,” says Tetz.
Luckily, Greg has importing experience through his business and was able to contact the company and co-ordinate with the shippers to get the foam liners into Canada.
“At the same time, the grocery stores were seeing panic buying and our website was not ready. We missed that opportunity by about a month,” says Tetz.
Another major challenge was with the website. “This was our single biggest lesson and we grossly underestimated the cost of the website,” she says.
The Calgary company they contracted did not deliver the website they required. The presentation was different than what the couple wanted and they also needed components for sales, inventory tracking and accommodating the individuality of the different producers. They ended up switching to work with a local company and conclude that the website is constantly evolving and never a finished product.
Processing was another hurdle. From their previous experience direct marketing some of their own animals, Tetz knew of the challenges with cutting instructions and the time involved to educate and explain to customers. They have now reached a point of working with three different processors.
“Our processors are really open-minded, forward-thinking people that are totally up for the challenge,” she says.
Getting animals butchered last summer was not easy as the processors experienced a significant demand increase because of the pandemic. But they consider themselves fortunate to have options.
Tetz speaks highly of the producers that make up Craft Beef Co. They include 4K Farms, Bauer Meats, Cyrus Bison Ranch, Grazed Right, High River Chicken, Lambtastic Farms, Nonay Beef, Prairie Land and Cattle, Southern Cross Livestock, WR Grazing and the couple’s own Tetz Cattle Co.
She gives all the credit to how the meat turns out to the producers themselves and emphasizes the importance of the farmers being able to share their own story.
In addition to marketing, Craft Beef Co. can now handle the logistics, something Trish and Greg Tetz had struggled with previously. They now work with Fed Ex to ship the meat frozen on dry ice and say they can get it to the customer in no more than two days.
This has not been an easy process for the couple. “Your backup plan needs a backup plan,” Tetz says. “It is important to weigh out the scenarios of what could happen.”
“A business never gets anywhere by pointing a finger and saying someone else is doing something wrong. We have to be part of the industry and support all producers,” she adds.
Once they had started investing in freezer space and having some farmers on board for direct marketing, they felt they could not quit even when it got hard.
“You have to keep sharing your vision and have the resiliency to keep moving,” she says. “But the reality is there will be times when you drop the ball and don’t expect to be perfect.”
The goal is to do the best you can and have a reasonable expectation for yourself.
They used personal finances to get started, along with some financing and family investment. The unique nature of the company meant they did not fit into many of the granting or support programs.
“The feasibility to make money in the first year or two is not reasonable with any new startup,” says Tetz. “It is a business that is going to keep growing and will need to be creative for financing. Our goal is to scale up over time.
“We have big plans for 2021 and are very optimistic. The customer wants more information about how animals are produced. Companies like ours are going to be more relevant and provide more options for both consumers and producers.”
Considering the hurdles Craft Beef Co. overcame in 2020, they will no doubt go through 2021 and beyond with the same amount of drive and enthusiasm.