Natural Beef Growing Again

Tyson Fresh Meat has introduced a new all-natural Angus line of beef, Open Prairie Natural Angus, and many retailers are planning an exciting debut for the new, tightly controlled line. Steve Bacho, meat director at Harvest Market in Novato, Calif., has been busy telling his customers about the differences between the new Open Prairie line, which will replace Tyson Fresh Meat's

WHITE SALMON, Wash. — Tyson Fresh Meat has introduced a new all-natural Angus line of beef, Open Prairie Natural Angus, and many retailers are planning an exciting debut for the new, tightly controlled line.

Steve Bacho, meat director at Harvest Market in Novato, Calif., has been busy telling his customers about the differences between the new Open Prairie line, which will replace Tyson Fresh Meat's Star Ranch Natural line.

“Our customers are very brand-conscious nowadays, and I want them to know this new natural line is as good or better than the other one,” Bacho told SN last week.

The three-unit Harvest Market, based here, has full-service meat departments in all its stores.

“Here, we have a really old-fashioned butcher shop with our own butchers on site. Forty feet of full-service meat and 50 feet of self-service,” Bacho said.

He plans to give the new line a big debut with a barbecue demo, probably outside in front of the store, on at least two consecutive upcoming weekends.

“Sales of our Star Ranch Natural grew from the time we got it two years ago. So we're expecting this new one to do well for us. “

While some retailers have chosen to give Tyson Fresh Meat's new natural line their private label, Harvest will be marketing it under the Open Prairie Natural Angus brand.

The timing seems right for the product launch since sales of natural-claim meat are on the rise once again. Having hit a peak in sales in 2008, sales of beef and other meats with “natural” claims began to decline in 2009, according to market research.

Now, however, Nielsen Co. figures show that sales of UPC-coded, prepackaged, pre-weighed fresh meat with natural claims on the packaging are up compared with a year ago in supermarkets in the United States.

“Fresh meat with natural claims is gaining in both dollar sales and equivalized unit volume,” a Nielsen spokeswoman said.

Indeed, for the 52 weeks ending Jan. 23, dollar sales of the UPC-coded, prepacked, pre-weighed fresh meat were up 15.7% in dollar sales from a year earlier and up 20.3% in equivalized unit volume.

That's quite a change from single-digit increases during the same period a year earlier.

All of this bodes well for the future of the natural meat category, especially as the economy begins to recover, industry sources said.

“There's a market for natural meat, definitely in my area here on the West Coast,” Bacho said. “I think it will continue to grow.”

In preparation for the launch of Open Prairie in January, Tyson conducted extensive consumer research to find out exactly what shoppers are looking for in natural-claim beef, officials told SN.

One of the major findings was that consumers expect transparency above all else.

“They want to know where their food comes from and they want to know as much about it as possible,” said Kent Harrison, senior director of marketing and value creation for Tyson Fresh Meats.

Accordingly, the company has initiated tighter controls on its supply of beef for this program, and it emphasizes that any lot of Open Prairie Natural Angus can be quickly and easily traced back to its origin.

“We made some significant changes to get closer to the cow/calf producers, to get the consumer closer to the producers. We started working with a core group of 30 ranchers who meet our standards. They go well beyond UDSA criteria for natural meat.”

The supplying ranchers are audited by an independent verification system at ranch level on essential criteria, including no added hormones or antibiotics, no artificial ingredients, and no animal by-products in their feed.