Company partners with other farms to produce grass-fed meat; sales instituted
By MATTHEW WEAVER
A Walla Walla, Wash.-based company specializing in grass-fed meat and poultry is expecting growth in 2010 after a difficult year.
From its beginning in 2000, Thundering Hooves experienced a positive growth curve, but 2009 proved to be a stagnant year, co-owner and director of sales and marketing Keith Swanson said.
"Roughly 25 percent of our restaurant accounts either went out of business or scaled back significantly on the higher-end cuts they had been buying," he said.
In addition, regular customers tended to buy sirloin instead of tenderloin and rib eye, or ground beef instead of high-quality roasts.
"Everyone seemed to be downsizing a bit," Swanson said.
At the beginning of 2010, the company instituted monthly 72-hour sales, placing a few items on "significant" sales of 25 to 50 percent off, which seems to have aided those who are still financially struggling. Others will buy a few sales items in addition to regular-price items.
"That seems to be working pretty well," Swanson said. "It's contributed to our growth."
The company sells 100 percent grass-fed beef, pork, lamb and chickens and turkeys.
The company has three aspects to its business model, Swanson said. It raises and finishes livestock on the farm, processes it in a small facility and markets through a website and in partnership with Corfini Gourmet, a Seattle distribution company.
This is the first year the company will not be raising its own poultry, relying instead on a farm in Moses Lake, Wash., Swanson said. Some of the beef cattle are raised on the company's farm as well as two other partner farms. The company has allied with about five farmers.
Roughly half of the company's sales are direct to customers through the website and a Walla Walla butcher shop, Swanson said. Neighborhood buying club deliveries are made to about 40 locations from Seattle to Portland.
The majority of Thundering Hooves' wholesale sales go through Corfini Gourmet, which sells natural foods from local farmers and specialty international producers. Since partnering several months ago, the distribution company has located new restaurants and grocery stores for Thundering Hooves meats.
Buying club numbers are up by nearly 50 percent in April and May, as opposed to most of 2009, Swanson said.
He expects the growth will continue, pointing to good marketing ideas already in place and a general sense that customers are more optimistic about the economy.