Across the nation, direct to consumer beef brands have all experienced a substantial increase in business in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
Susie Felton and her husband Jim ranch near Springdale, Montana. Their direct to consumer beef businesses has hit an all-time high due to the virus and panic buying in grocery stores.
“It has been a wild ride,” said Susie Felton. “Where we thought we were is nothing to where we are today.”
What is typically a slow season for Felton Angus Beef's direct to consumer service all changed in the wake of the coronavirus.
“We started out with our regular customer base and they were stocking up,” Susie said. “Suddenly the world changed. We have new customers. Let me tell you it's a humbling experience to raise the food we feed our family and be able to share that with customers across the United States.”
The Feltons are known for their Black Angus cattle genetics, but Susie Felton saw the opportunity to diversify the family ranch with their own beef brand several years ago.
“I sat in the back room and I launched a business,” said Felton. “Just like starting any business, there's lots of problems to solve. We're blazing a trail.”
The effort came with several challenges. “Some of the biggest challenges for what we do is access to USDA meat processors,” Felton explained. “The meat must be approved by the USDA to cross a state line. There just aren't many in any state let alone in Montana.
Another challenge Felton faced was cold storage and creating a customer base. “You can have it all ready to ship and then you don't have a customer,” said Felton. “How do you connect with your customers and get them the product that they're looking for? How to speak their language? They tell me what they want, and I listened.”
By listening to consumer preference, the 100% Montana raised Felton Angus Beef has been delivered to doorsteps in 48 states. Social media has played a role in connecting and engaging with the customer base.
“The story doesn't end when the box leaves Montana,” said Felton. “That's just the beginning of the story. The story then hits a kitchen and then they may or may not know what to do with the product that you shipped them. So, we have an educational component. It makes people have success and they enjoy the product and they tell us about it, and they share their pictures and we share those back. It creates a community around a ranch in Montana that didn't exist before.
Felton said there is plenty of room in the direct to consumer marketplace. She said ranches can use it as a tool to help bring the next generation back to the family business.
“We're collaborating, we're not competing with each other,” said Felton. “We can leave that to the big brands. We're building a system where people go back to farms and ranches directly just like they did generations ago.”