In what is likely the first deal of its kind, the City of Anaheim has purchased a herd of 75 cattle to supply its beef needs at the Anaheim Convention Center in southern California, where Aramark operates the catering concession. "It will be a great part of our sustainability platform," Jim Tripp, Aramark’s general manager at the Center, told "Not only that, but now I know exactly how many flanks, flatirons and ribs I’ll have to work with."

The purchase was made through the City of Anaheim, and the cattle come from Hearst Ranch, which raises 2,000 head of grass-fed cattle, certified humane and certified sustainable, on 80,000 acres in the coastal mountains bordering the famous Hearst Castle property and state park north of San Simeon, Calif. "They were the perfect candidate to do this," Brian Kenny, division manager for Hearst Ranch Beef, said of Aramark at Anaheim. "They totally get what we’re doing."

Hearst Ranch had been supplying ground beef for about five years to the Convention Center — where 85,000 hamburger patties are served every year — and then more recently has purveyed filets and tenderloins to Tripp’s foodservice team. "Their beef is very high quality and we always get compliments on it," Tripp said, "and the fact that they’re certified humane and sustainable echoes what we’re trying to do here." The Convention Center is a partner with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program for purchasing sustainably-caught seafood, and it buys a lot of locally-grown organic poultry and produce as well.

The cattle the Center purchased will be processed for a fee by the contract packer Hearst Ranch Beef uses, although at a discount — the packer will keep the hide and other "drop value" byproducts. "The onus is now on me to make sure we use all of the carcasses that we’ll receive from the packer," Tripp said, noting that already he has developed a menu to accommodate the various cuts he’ll be getting. A tasting for the Center’s 20 largest customers has been held, "and their excitement about the program and the menu really got me excited all over again," Tripp, who is also a certificated chef, commented. Parts of the carcass that aren’t easily turned into individual entrée items will go into one of two "catch-all programs," as he describes them: they will either be ground into hamburger or be made into fajitas.

There has been some skepticism of the unusual arrangement voiced by citizens of Anaheim, a few of whom have noted in online forums that the city shouldn’t be buying cattle when it’s got schools and other services to run, and even if it did want to buy cattle, there are cattle available far cheaper than Hearst’s. Brian Kenny said he understands the concerns — "this is an unusual situation, no question" – but he responds: "What Anaheim is getting is a totally traceable beef supply, a shorter supply chain, and beef of unparalleled quality at a great price. Our beef is grass-fed and let me tell you, it tastes just like the ranch up here."

The Center’s foodservice needs are voluminous. On the exhibition floor, meals for up to 12,000 people can be prepared. The Center’s main ballroom will seat 3,000 for a sit-down banquet. "The key to this for them," said Kenny, "is it’s got to be easy to do."

Like Tripp, he’s excited too. "This was a big deal — we’re on to something that I think will really work," he said. "When you look at changing agriculture, you’ve got to make high-impact change, and that’s what this is. It changes a whole way of doing things."