Selling the sizzle AND the steak
By Ray Bowman
(First appeared in Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association publication Cow Country News November issue)
Jon Bednarski recognizes himself as a niche marketer and he’s OK with that.
“When you start to realize you’re just a very small pea in the pod, you learn that there’s room for all of us.”
The Oldham County cattleman doesn’t want to be the biggest beef producer and marketer in the country, or the state for that matter, but he does want to be one of the best. To accomplish that goal, he has developed some specialized marketing strategies in an attempt to add value to the Belted Galloway steers he backgrounds.
The Direct Connection
Sherwood Acres Farm was founded in 2003 after Bednarski’s family gave him three Belted Galloways for a birthday present. Around 2005 Bednarski and business partner Dan Weintraub decided to take their product straight to the customer through sales at farmer’s markets. “Back then, in a farmer’s market, you saw produce, vegetables, stuff like that, but you didn’t see any meats. So, here we are, brand new farmers, backing up to a farmer’s market and we’re going to sell frozen meat.”
From the beginning, it was apparent that the meat wasn’t going to sell itself. Utilizing direct beef marketing grant funds from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association, Bednarski called upon 25 years of sales experience in the log and timber-framed housing business to craft a plan to sell his steaks and roasts. “The first thing we did was produce a website, a brochure and business cards. Then we put together a professional booth layout. We wanted people to think we had been in business five years, not five minutes.”
Sherwood Acres still sells at select farmers markets, arriving in a black and white van painted to suggest the markings of his beloved Beltie steers. The cuts are boneless, so as to prevent puncture of the vacuum packaging, and bear a professionally designed and produced label with the company’s logo and information. Bednarski feels it’s important that the product not only taste good but look good.
The product is also available from a small retail facility, referred to as “The World’s Smallest Beef Shoppe” at the company’s headquarters in LaGrange. Selling mail-order via the internet was also considered, but the logistics of delivering a quality product on such a small scale made the idea impractical.
The primal cuts sold well at the farmers’ markets, but there was a small problem. “We would come home after the weekend, having sold our primal cuts, and we’d have 200 or 300 pounds of ground beef left,” Bednarski explains.
At first, the company investigated selling to restaurants and local markets but found their customers expecting to pay wholesale prices for the product. One exception is the Louisville restaurant, Muscle and Burger Bar. The establishment buys large quantities of the product and pays on delivery. The Sherwood Farms logo is included on the menu, not only to promote the supplier but to also establish the local link, assuring diners that the meat being used was sourced from a nearby producer.
Finding the Niche
Bednarski continues to look for new and better ways to sell his wares and has begun producing a Bacon- Cheeseburger Bratwurst, developed with the assistance of Brooks Meats in Walton. There is also a frozen chili product in the works. These products are targeted for the individual consumer and may also be provided in larger quantities for bigger venues like the Kentucky State Fair and food vendors at sporting events.
“More than ever, today people want to have a connection to the farm,” Bednarski reflects. He thinks that’s the real advantage niche marketers have over larger concerns. “They want to know what goes on behind these gates, and I’m good with that. A niche guy can do that, where a big guy doesn’t have the time to do that.”