Verde Farms’ ground beef has been its highest selling product since Dana Ehrlich, founder and chief executive officer, started the company in 2005. Sales for the organic, 100% pasture-raised, 100% grass-fed and grass-finished ground beef has doubled in the last four years.
“As consumers and retailers both know, ground beef is extremely versatile, pairs with a variety of ingredients, and really works in recipes all year regardless of the season,” Ehrlich said. “It’s also a great product for consumers to have stocked in the freezer at home as meal patterns rotate. What makes our ground beef special is of course our value-based standards and superior quality. Consumer consciousness has notably shifted toward selecting products, particularly in the meat category, that are better for themselves and the environment.”
Ehrlich added his belief that this consumer consciousness has driven the growth of Verde’s ground beef products.
Ehrlich’s vision for Verde Farms started with a meal in the lowlands of South America. Gauchos (South American cowboys – See “The Gaucho way” on Page 15) prepared the meal after Ehrlich had joined them on a cattle drive in Uruguay, and it was the first time he tasted beef from cows raised, fed and finished on grass only. At that point he came back to the United States with a mission to provide beef raised in open pastures with respect for the land, the farmers, the animals and the environment.
Today, Verde sources cattle from a large network of farms in Uruguay, Australia and North America. The farms in the company’s network meet strict standards for 100% grass-fed-and-finished beef. The US Department of Agriculture Certified Organic beef never contains antibiotics or added hormones and the cattle roam free on pastures year-round, 100% of the time.
“The majority of our beef comes from Uruguay, where cattle have been raised exclusively on natural grassland pastures for more than 400 years,” Ehrlich said. “Raising world-class, grass-fed beef is a national tradition, passion, and vital part of the Uruguayan economy. Since the launch of Verde, we’ve also worked to help build a supply network of USDA organic certified farms in Uruguay from less than 100 to now more than 1,000.”
The average Uruguayan farm uses at least 1 acre of land per animal and most animals spend their entire life on the same farm. For example, Verde’s Angus and Herefords reach maturity at 24 to 30 months grazing in the same pastures they were born on.
Once Verde’s cows reach maturity, the company transports them to optimally located processing facilities for slaughter and cutting. Verde owns a modern, GFSI, level 2 SQF-certified processing facility in New Jersey with state-of-the-art equipment to process and package its beef, as well as its other raw single ingredient (RSI) products.
“Safe Quality Food (SQF) certification is a rigorous program, and we’re proud to hold a score of 93, something that was achieved thanks to Verde’s QA Department involving the whole company,” Ehrlich said. “We also partner with co-packers who support overflow of our ground beef and other RSI products, as well as those who support our value-added products that are part of our ongoing growth strategy.”
Automation adds to custom
Although Verde uses cattle raised using a 400-year-old tradition, it utilizes technology and automation in all processes from beginning to end to gain efficiency and provide the highest quality product. The company links the warehouse and corporate enterprise resource planning (ERP) system throughout the entire production and shipping process with scanning technology.
In addition to resource management technology, Verde believes in going all out on food safety. Metal detection and X-ray are both part of a strict process to guarantee safe food.
“In line with industry food safety and quality standards, all finished product must be passed through a metal detection system to ensure that it’s free from any metal contaminants, but for Verde, this is actually the second screening our products pass through,” said Claudio Andrade, director of quality assurance. Before the grind begins, Verde Farms inspects raw material with X-ray technology to prevent any out-of-specification material from ever entering the process. This further layer adds to the company’s rigorous supplier assurance program.
In addition to foreign material detection, Verde’s X-ray process also measures chemical leanness in real time and analyzes in-line fat. Those key data points ensure finished products meet specifications, as well as superior quality expectations. All the data collected goes into the Salesforce ERP and X-ray images can be stored for future screening and internal training. Verde will also apply the data collected to evaluate supplier performance and create stronger trust with the company’s partners.
“In addition to a robust supplier management program, Verde also applies an intervention technology on all incoming beef trimmings,” Andrade said. “By continuing to leverage the latest technologies in processing and automation, we have the capacity to keep up with the growing demand that is anticipated in this space.”
Verde ensures present and future customers and consumers receive superior quality, safe and regulatory compliant products through a commitment by the quality assurance and supply chain team to continually work with suppliers and partners. The team leads a systematic evaluation process of specific technical and value-based standards including animal welfare compliance; certifications including USDA, Organic, and GFSI; continual quality assurance testing and transparency to establish accountability and trust.
“On an ongoing basis, we evaluate our suppliers’ performance to fortify and enhance the trust between parties by holding regular meetings to review supplier scorecard results and in-plant audits to verify all programs and records,” Andrade said. “This protocol goes beyond industry standard, which dictates that each supplier is required to provide a set of documentation to demonstrate compliance with all USDA/FSIS provisions and a continuous commitment to food safety and quality.
“The opening of our own USDA Organic, level 2 SQF-certified processing facility in 2019 emphasized our commitment to offering the highest-quality products, while maintaining transparency and exceptional customer service.”
Ehrlich and Verde Farms believe consumer interest in sustainable, pasture-raised and grass-fed and finished beef will maintain its current growth trajectory. The company sees this as a progressive growth opportunity, especially among consumers who have historically purchased conventional beef.
“We embrace our role as an industry leader and will continue to work toward expanding consumer access to grass-fed beef raised the right way,” Ehrlich said. “Demonstrating this growth from a market perspective, the 2017-2020 CAGR for ground beef overall is 5%, while grass-fed ground beef is growing 2.5 to 3.5 times faster at 13%. Organic grass-fed tops off at 17.7%.”
As an accessory strategy to the growth in consumer interest, Verde added registered film packaging (See “Executing a packaging plan” in the April 2021 issue of MEAT+POULTRY) to enhance the visual perspective of its USDA Organic 100% grass-fed, grass-finished, 100% pasture-raised ground beef.
“The new technology allowed us to maximize use of the product packaging itself for on-shelf appeal to convey important attributes and spotlight quality,” Ehrlich said. “We were also able to add functional conveniences including a transparent viewing window and Easy Peel opening.”
A minority investment from Manna Tree Partners in 2019 and the completion of a Series A in 2020 reinforced investor understanding that consumers are more conscious of the health and sustainability impact of their purchase decisions. This understanding is especially true when consumers purchase meats. These conscious choices of meat consumers reinforce the belief in Verde Farms positioning to be the brand choice for its growing consumer base, a base spread across retail, club and e-commerce via AmazonFresh, according to Geordie Shaw, chief sales officer.
With a 93 SQF certification, organic certification and a portion of Verde’s supply non-GMO Project verified, along with its processes, high standards and clear vision of the way beef should be raised, Ehrlich still animatedly believes, “The success of Verde’s ground beef business is definitely a reflection of an overall company team effort.”