Tag Archives: consumer


Grass-fed and grass-finished beef: How not to be fooled by beef industry tricks

One of the more fascinating aspects of the meat industry in the United States is the use and misuse of product naming and labeling by various purveyors. We’ve covered this topic a fair amount, quite honestly, because it is an area where we see so much manipulation and, sometimes, purposeful deception of consumers. This is most striking when it comes to grass-fed cattle and the designation “grass-fed beef” in particular.

Grass-fed AND grass-finished

One of the first things we discovered about quality grass-fed beef is how little customers know about the products they buy and eat.

There’s not that much to know, but, crazily, it’s still very confusing for the consumer. Grass-fed beef is expected to come from cattle that eat grass — or other green forage — while grazing in open pastures for their entire life. Seems pretty cut and dried.

However, transparency hasn’t always been the beef industry standard.

The fine print – Grain-fed beef

Confusion arrives with the use of labels such as “grass-fed, grain-finished beef,” which could trick consumers into thinking the meat they are eating is something it is not. Basically, “grass-fed, grain-finished” is conventional beef, the same thing as every cow raised.

Currently, 98 percent of beef consumed in the United States is grain-fed beef. However, every cow starts out the same way: It is raised the first six months on its mother’s milk and continues for about a year just grazing on grass (and hay or other “forage” as it is impossible to grow cattle on grass year-round in most regions of the country). After half a year, the majority of cows move to the feedlot where they are fattened on grains for the last 90 to 160 days before slaughter.

But some cattle continue to graze and feed on grass after those first six months. This is what people think of when they seek out truly grass-fed, grass-finished beef.

When a label says “grass-fed, grain-finished,” that’s just the same thing as every other steak or roast at any supermarket. They were taken to a feedlot, just like other cattle. Although, that’s not what the labeling is trying to imply.

You can even have grass-fed and grain-fed cattle on the same ranch.

An example of grass-fed grain-finished marketing (with the branding removed). This is what they want consumers to imagine the cattle’s life entailed.

Why aren’t all cows both grass-fed and grass-finished?

The entire system is built for grain-fed, not grass-fed production. Grain-finishing is more efficient and cheaper, and it adds weight a lot quicker to get the cattle primed for slaughter. It also gives the cattle the type of marbling and fat content that Americans have grown accustomed to in their beef. If you think about it, even the “quality” ratings we use to talk about our beef — choice, select and prime — are based on marbling and rapid weight gain.

Feedlots and grain-finishing

Beef sales have been on the decline for a number of years, and a big reason for that is because people think that steaks are unhealthy. The reality of what makes beef potentially unhealthy has to do with the artificial fattening of the cow. Not only do grain-finished cattle eat food that has not been a traditional part of their diet, but feedlot cows also have more antibiotics and hormones than those that grazed for their entire lives (that is until some stricter FDA rules were put in place in 2017 tried to limit this practice).

Studies have discovered that grain-fed, corn-fed, or grain-finished cattle do not have the same nutrition profile as grass-fed. Studies show that cattle fed grain lack as many good omega-3 fatty acids and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) as grass-fed cows. Both of these essential fatty acids have pretty great health benefits.

And yet, the system is structured in a way where grass-fed is just not an option for most cattle ranchers and beef producers. They have limited resources and must focus on making their cattle operations as efficient as possible. Letting cattle graze for their entire lives does not work for many beef producers.

An example of grass-fed grass-finished marketing.

Purposeful misrepresentation

Some nefarious producers still want the financial benefits of shipping grass-fed, natural beef. This led to the creation and use of the grass-fed, grain-finished label.

Mislabeling isn’t the only tactic that has confused consumers. We’ve heard a lot from people who’ve tried grass-fed beef before and didn’t like it, even saying that it tastes like shoe-leather. We cannot imagine how someone could think that tender grass-fed, grass-finished beef tastes anything other than delicious.

We discovered that at one point producers trying to get into the grass-fed market would sell dairy cows.  While most dairy cows are just fed grass, they are often old by the time they stop producing milk. In these instances, the product being sold was not beef raised with the intention of being high-quality meat, but that it was raised for dairy and got used for meat, under the implication that it was “grass-fed.” But as the market has grown, more and more companies have decided to raise grass-fed cows specifically for meat instead of dairy cows.

And so most of the beef on the market tastes a lot better than what people who remember eating grass-fed meat — but were actually eating dairy cow — have experienced.

This issues of misrepresentation and mislabeling have been a persistent problem for consumers who may have been unknowingly ignorant to the realities. When someone buys grass-fed beef, they think they are getting an idyllic cow grazing in a field. Too often that hasn’t been the case.

Finding real grass-fed beef

One of the challenges for the customer is that they have good intentions, they want to eat a quality product, and they want the benefit of eating a steak that’s better for them. But they can easily be led astray.

The key is for consumers to look for labels and brands that offer either 100 percent grass-fed meat or the grass-fed, grass-finished labeling. There are also a lot of organizations that offer to certify that products are indeed fully grass-fed. This includes the American Grassfed Association. However, the USDA, which only monitors certified organic beef, does not concern itself with grass-fed regulation. The story of how certified organic/grass-fed beef is labeled and regulated is the topic of another post entirely.

ButcherBox is a brand that stands against all this confusion. We partner only with the farmers whose interests are aligned with our own. We want to bring the customers the best quality meats without any surprises.

And, we are willing to scour the globe to do that.

We want to end the confusion about grass-fed, grass-finished beef. It’s time to be able to access high-quality, trusted meat.


Photo by Dylan Collette on Unsplash.

The rickety bus hits an unexpected bump – Dealing with a startup’s first, major problem

There is an analogy that I tend to use to describe to people what it’s like to build startups. For those who haven’t been involved in early-stage businesses, I explain the experience by comparing it to an uncharted adventure.
I start by telling the story of how when you start a company, it’s like you just got dropped into a dense jungle, and you don’t know how to get out.
In the analogy, you first need to hack your way through, and all you have is a machete. You get others to join along — building out the team — and tend to bring in people who will swing a machete as hard as you will. You all are working toward a common goal, and, even if you don’t have a sense of what’s exactly next, you develop trust, camaraderie, and each person finds their ideal role. Eventually, you find a path and you follow it, hoping that it will lead to a road.  
You also need to plan for what may be next. Along the way, you’ve hopefully added some people on the team who can wield a machete and also know how to drive.
When you clear the jungle and hit the dirt road, that’s when things get really interesting.
The business is now at a new stage, and everything is going to get a lot more complicated; you can’t shoot from the hip as much as you once did. You need structure. You need systems. You need security. You need process.
Getting back to the analogy, at this point, you need to learn how to drive a rickety bus you just found. You’ve just realized that the object now is to take that bus and drive it down the dirt road. The road is bumpy and has many rough patches, but it can also be fun and thrilling. You just hope and pray that bus can make it to a major road without falling apart. 
And then it happens: You go from a dirt road to one that is paved. There are still a ton of potholes, so you aren’t driving smoothly yet. At this new phase, there is lots of traffic, tons of bad drivers, and, at times, what I’ll call of “squirrels in the road” (i.e., the unforeseen disasters) that can jump out at you at any moment. Because you are beyond the dirt road, you can go faster. You start to stress test the bus, see how fast it can go.
At this phase in the company’s growth, you still really need all the things you built into the business when you were on the “dirt road” —systems, processes, security, structure. And if you didn’t actually fix the bus while it was on the dirt road, things start to shake and quake as you start really putting the pedal to the metal. 
This is where we are now with ButcherBox.

Let me explain to you how one small change can cascade into a massive problem for a young company. 

On Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we did a major promotion. Actually, it was the largest promotion we had ever done.
The way it worked is that we offered a “steak sampler” of six steaks to anyone who signed up for a subscription. If you are already a member, you could purchase the steak sampler for a low price. We anticipated a lot of orders, so we had prepped our distribution facilities and had made sure we cut and stored enough steaks for 40% more people than our wildest predictions.
By Thanksgiving night, we knew we had a winner as new signups kept rolling in and current subscribers added the six steak offering to their monthly order. It was exciting and exhilarating.
But in all our excitement, we didn’t realize that we had made a critical error that was not picked up by our normally stringent oversight. You see, we clicked the wrong button when setting up the order and fulfillment process, and a major problem was about to hit.
We had inadvertently hit a button that doubled the order for everyone who signed up to get the steak sampler. This meant that every order was getting twice as many steaks, 12 steaks instead of six.
By the time we figured out something was wrong, half of the orders had already gone out. Unfortunately, the steaks that should have been going out with the second half of the orders had been sent out with the first. In no time at all, we had a huge problem: We had no steaks to send for orders, no inventory, and no idea of when we would get more steaks. 
As we approach New Years Day, we are still digging ourselves from this mistake. We are hustling crazier than ever; it is almost as if we are back in the jungle with our machetes — we’ve got a lot more team members working to clear the way, and, worst of all, we’ve  let down some in our great community of ButcherBox members.
There are hundreds of customers who have yet to receive a box — we’ve subsequently sent refunds for their purchases. Due to this small error, the company has also lost hundreds of thousands of dollars due to refunds and extra product sent.
Worst, we’ve made a very bad brand impression on hundreds of customers. (I don’t think we can ever fully express our regrets for not meeting their expectations.)
The transmission dropped out of the rickety bus as we’ve approached the on-ramp to a new highway because we forgot to check a bolt or two. We’re working feverously to get the bus improved and back on the road we’ve been on and beyond. 
Here is where we go from here:
- We need to stay humble, and we fix what’s broken. We work as a team to figure out where our issues are, and we focus on them to fix them. 
- We operationalize checks and balances across the company so that we can catch a mistake like this in the future. 
- We embrace the issues and problems because we know they will make us better, smarter, and faster.
At this moment, we are already turning things around. Luckily, we still have the passionate machete-wielders, experienced drivers, and, as we’ve discovered, a few people who know how to fix a transmission.