In 1994, Robert Meyer set out to carve his own niche in the beef business. Today, Meyer Natural Angus Beef is becoming one of the nation's fastest growing suppliers of “all natural” beef products.

Meyer's strategy is simple and straightforward: To produce and deliver the No. 1 tasting, natural beef protein products for both domestic and international markets.

Meyer beef is naturally raised, certified humanely treated, and processed to a set of strict specifications. Based in Lincoln, NE, the company never markets beef treated with growth promotants or antibiotics. The Meyer concept is that quality and flavor go hand in hand. In fact, Meyer beef was good enough to win the 2001 Gold Medal and Best of Show award from the American Tasting Institute*.

Meyer's taste factors were also instrumental in landing a high-profile supply contract in 2001 with T.G.I. Friday's, a national restaurant chain.

“We subscribe to the belief that the more natural the beef, the better the taste,” says Eric Silvius, Meyer's chief operations officer. “We think that's what sells our beef the most — the quality and flavor — and the consistency of those factors.”

Silvius adds that Meyer's animal care standards have earned it the Humane Farm Animal Care's “Certified Humane” designation (see “Certified Humane,” page 39).

Growth And Challenges

Meyer standards are high enough to surpass not only USDA requirements, but all previous definitions of “natural.” “This enables us to market to consumers, beef in its purest form — just as nature intended it to be,” Silvius says.

The proof of Meyer's success is in the numbers. In 2003, the company's sales grew a phenomenal 40% — and the prospects for 2004 are following the growth curve set over the past couple of years.

“The marketplace for natural beef isn't static,” explains Silvius. “We just don't know where the limits may be.”

Currently, Meyer sells fresh and frozen beef products to a growing list of retail and food service customers. But, Silvius leaves the door open to the idea of cooked or prepared beef products coming out of the business one day.

Meyer can provide customers with custom cuts and products, including a selection of dry-aged premium steaks.

The biggest challenge faced by Meyer following the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) cases discovered in Canada and the U.S. last year, is the loss of export outlets.

“Those export markets are the outlets for cuts that aren't in high demand in the U.S.,” he says. “Right now, the market for those traditional export cuts has gotten tough.”

Cattle Procurement

Issues such as BSE highlight the unsettled nature of the industry today. Markets notwithstanding, the key to the Meyer quality is in sourcing cattle.

“We're always looking for quality cattle that meet the requirements of our production system,” says Mike Phillips, Meyer Natural Angus program director. “We'll look at nearly any class of cattle — feeders, yearlings or feds — that meet our requirements.”

The first step to fitting into Meyer's system is to provide cattle that are no less than 50% Red or Black Angus.

Since its inception, Meyer Natural Angus cattle have been sourced verified. Producers certify the cattle are born, raised, and fed in the U.S. and adhere to Meyer's standards (see sidebar on page 40). Affidavits trace the movement of cattle from the original seller, other owners, shippers, feeders and truckers. The affidavits must also be signed by a Meyer representative.

“Our primary focus is to acquire beef that grades Choice or better and carcasses with yield grades of 1, 2 and 3,” Phillips adds. He says there are several options available for ranchers and feeders to participate in the Meyer program that allow them to receive competitive pricing and premiums:

  • Sell direct as fed cattle, feeders or yearlings.

  • Sell via a local livestock auction barn and/or video sales firm. It's advised that producers inform a Meyer representative well in advance as to when and where cattle will be offered.

  • Contract fed cattle to Meyer using forward pricing and grid pricing.

  • Market feeders and yearlings direct via Meyer's contract options or through designated livestock auctions.

  • Retain ownership through the “rail.” Meyer can locate your cattle to feedyards specializing in “natural” cattle production that optimize their performance.

The “Natural” Argument

Eyebrows are invariably raised when the term “natural” surfaces in conversations with cattlemen. Some producers who produce cattle under conventional systems feel the term implies the use of growth promotants and antibiotics results in product that is less safe or not as wholesome.

Phillips likes to clarify the point.

“We're not saying other beef is not wholesome. We're just saying our beef comes from cattle that have never received a specified set of treatments or have been provided certain products,” he says. “Our beef is breed-specific and we're serving a market that wants an all-natural product and has a specific set of ‘wants.’”

The key, adds Phillips, is for our consumers to understand what the term “natural” means within Meyer's product. He says this segment isn't for everybody. “It's a niche — not everyone has the same tastes and desires.”

He says Meyer's retailers are careful to educate their customers that beef products are healthy.

“Then they let the customer make the decision on what kind of beef they want to buy,” Phillips explains. “But, customers say that this beef tastes great — and no matter how wholesome, safe or nutritious any product may be, if it doesn't taste great they aren't going to keep coming back.”

*Formerly known as the American Tasting Institute, American Culinary Institute and Quality Institute International — the American Culinary Institute (ACI) has completed a restructuring under a single corporate brand and new corporate identity. ACI is an independent chef-based organization dedicated to recognizing and honoring the best food and food related products.

Certified Humane

The “Certified Humane Raised and Handled” label assures consumers that a meat, poultry, egg or dairy product has been produced according to Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) standards for animal treatment.

Based in Herndon, VA, HFAC offers a voluntary, user fee-based service available to producers, processors and haulers of animals raised for food. Certification of Meyer Natural Angus followed rigorous on-site inspections by HFAC professionals, says HFAC's Michele Wells.

To receive HFAC certification, producers must offer animals a diet without antibiotics or hormones and must be raised with shelter, resting areas and space sufficient to support natural behavior. Producers certified under the Certified Humane Certificate Program can use the “Certified Humane Raised & Handled” logo on their packaging.

For more information, visit HFAC's Web site at www.certifiedhumane.com.

Meyer Natural Requirements

To meet Meyer Natural Angus standards, producers must follow these requirements:

  • Minimum 50% Red or Black Angus genetics.

  • No added growth promotants, hormones or implants in the animal's lifetime.

  • No antibiotics or ionophores administered in the animal's lifetime.

  • No animal by-products in feed.

  • Born and raised in the U.S.

  • Producers are encouraged to assemble loads of a minimum of 50,000 lbs.

  • Weaned at least 45 days before leaving the ranch.

  • Labeled use of vaccines is allowed.

  • Raised under Human Farm Animal Care guidelines.

  • Allow visits by Meyer personnel to certify all standards are being met.

  • At time of delivery, cattle are sound, in a merchantable condition and free of disease and lameness.

  • Complete, accurate records must be kept.

  • All vaccinations given subcutaneous or in the neck area with no more than 5 cc/site.

  • Any animal treated with an antibiotic, or disqualified for any above reason, must be marked for removal from the natural program.

For more information, contact Mike Phillips, program director, at 402/430-1352 or mphillips@re-meyer.com.