BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – At Hanova Hills Farm in Forestville, Chautauqua County beef production is taking a step back in time.
“Basically we’re just trying to raise good beef,” said Dan Egan, the farm’s manager and a partner.
Egan says his herd of cattle is split into four breeding groups on 570 acres, pasture raised and finished without growth hormones or antibiotics.
“We’re considered natural beef. We’re not certified organic,” said Egan. “We do it, I would call it, an old fashioned way. A simple way. It’s very simple here.”
And that simple approach, which also includes no antibiotics and growth hormones, seems to be feeding a growing consumer appetite for “natural” beef.
“People want to know where the meat comes from. They want to see the people that raise it,” added Egan. “They want to have contact with who they’re getting it from.”
Jeff Culhane, vice president of perishable sales and merchandising for Tops Markets, sees a demand for specialty beef products.
“We are seeing more and more customers come to us and talk to us about antibiotic free meats, organic meats and traditional choice level meats,” said Culhane.
Shoppers are seeing more beef choices, especially under the “natural” and “organic” labels.
But those specialty choices tend to be more expensive than regular beef.
For example, when News 4 checked recently, Wegmans had a natural beef ribeye selling for $17.99, while the conventional retailed for $11.39. The difference is about $6 to $7 per pound.
“As you’re probably aware beef markets are at an all time high so all our prices are a little bit higher,” said Kelly Schoeneck, vice president of meat and seafood merchandising for Wegmans.
“People are paying it. We’ve had a very positive response to it,” said Schoeneck. “It was introduced — kind of a soft launch — end of June early July as we converted the supply chain over, and the customer response has been very strong.”
Wegmans also has organic (grass-fed) ground beef shipped in from Uruguay.
The folks at Hanova Hills Farm say people are craving local, and need to know where the meat comes from.
“We’re raising beef that we would feed our families, and we do feed our families and neighbors, and those at the farmer’s market we meet every week,” said Susan Egan, a partner in the farm along with her husband Dan.
The Hanova Hills beef is sent to McDonald Meats in Girard, Pennsylvania for processing and packaging, and sold under the label “Lake Country.”
Percy McDonald, owner of McDonald Meats, says the beef is aged for about 18 days.
“As soon as we cut it, it goes in a flash freezer. Freezes the freshness right into the product, and it stays like that for as long as you keep it in your freezer,” said McDonald.
But “natural” doesn’t mean organic.
In fact, the USDA defines the term “natural” as a product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed.
“I don’t think it really means anything useful in meat and poultry, and it barely means anything at all in the rest of the grocery store,” said Patty Lovera, assistant directior of Food & Water Watch, a Washington, D.C. based consumer rights group.
Jeff Culhane of Tops Markets says consumers are more educated than ever before.
“They want to know more information,” said Culhane. “They are using the internet to find out more information.”
At Hanova Hills Farm, Susan Egan says their model is working, and that they have no plans to go “certified organic.”
“We don’t find any value in trading our herd or changing the animals to produce anything different,” said Egan.
Like other organic products, organic livestock must be:
- Produced without genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge.
- Managed in a manner that conserves natural resources and biodiversity.
- Raised per the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (National List).
- Fed 100 percent certified organic feed, except for trace minerals and vitamins used to meet the animal’s nutritional requirements.
- Managed without antibiotics, added growth hormones, mammalian or avian byproducts, or other prohibited feed ingredients (e.g., urea, manure, or arsenic compounds).