Ontario Beef Magazine

February 2019

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Branding proves success for Ontario beef

By Jeanine Moyer

With decades of beef marketing experience, Greg Nolan, President of Artisan Farms Direct (AFD), is combining his strength and knowledge as a beef farmer to develop a new line of customer-driven, locally supplied Ontario beef brands to the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). “I’m a farmer first, but we at Artisan Farms have learned how to fit into the wholesale meat industry and understand what today’s customer is looking for,” says Nolan, who partnered with Beef Farmers of Ontario in 2018 to develop four new Ontario beef brands through the Regional Marketing Initiative (RMI).

The results of the new brands being marketed through AFD are echoing throughout Ontario – from new markets for provincial beef farmers and growing business in slaughter and processing facilities, to happy retail customers and consumers who are excited with the availability of additional options when purchasing quality Ontario Beef.

 Bringing beef to the city

Artisan Farms Direct is a wholesale meat distribution business, focusing on Ontario beef and lamb. Founded in 2014, with deep roots stemming from former wholesale beef divisions and Ontario farms, AFD markets to retail, food service, restaurants and butcher shops in the GTA. Operating from a warehouse and distribution centre in Mississauga, AFD has invested in building an extensive supply chain, warehousing system and end-use clients that enable them to purchase cattle from Ontario farmers, opening new market opportunities for Ontario beef. “We focus on whole carcass utilization,” explains Nolan, who works with customers to foster an understanding of how the animals are raised, specific qualities of each beef brand, and encourages them to try new cuts of meat to utilize the entire animal. “This approach, combined with our almost 20 different brands of AFD Ontario beef, have launched us into our unique business dedicated to beef logistics and distribution. It’s working for us and the Ontario beef farmers we are involved with to source cattle.”

Building a brand

With funding assistance under the RMI, Nolan and the Artisan team conducted a market survey to determine what types of branded beef would provide new marketing options for Ontario beef farmers and meet the desired needs of new and existing AFD customers. “The result was the creation of four new brands of Ontario beef raised with no added hormones. Springwater Farms is a grass-fed brand raised without antibiotics or added hormones, Premium Angus is a certified Ontario Angus brand, Love Lean offers leaner, AA cuts to meet the needs of consumers looking for leaner beef, and Clearwater Farms, a brand of Ontario beef named after an area of the province where we source some of our cattle,” says Nolan.

The idea was that individually branded products would be better accepted in the retail marketplace because many customers don’t want to compete with each other with the same brand. The creation of multiple brands now offers customers options and even an exclusivity for their menus or meat counters. “These brands have also introduced four new revenue streams for AFD, increasing sales and new customers all at once. We’ve seen a 20% sales boost in the last six months, directly from our new brands.”

Nolan believes the new brands are also enhancing the overall image of Ontario and Canadian beef. By providing customers with a new choice of local product, the AFD brands are displacing imported products. “We believe even our small initiative adds to the overall image of Ontario beef, as we are all on the same team, and we are able to displace imports from U.S. and Australia,” he says. 

On-farm implementation

“Working with BFO through the RMI program has proven Ontario beef has untapped market opportunity,” says Nolan, expressing his gratitude for the program. “Our goal, with the support of the RMI, was to scale up using our existing business model, and to enhance the supply chain to include more neighbouring, smaller niche farmers. We believe in the Ontario family farmer and want to deliver local food to our customers. What better way to serve both ends of the market than by creating a beneficial supply chain?”

The comprehensive brand development program included three phases – on-farm production protocols and manual development, a quality assurance and third-party audit system and creation of the final brands, including labels and sales support. “Beginning in January 2018, we wrote manuals and protocols, incorporating the Verified Beef Production Plus program and elements from the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, among other programs. We also worked with an auditing and verification company to establish an audit system,” explains Nolan. “We’re proud of our production programs that allow us to confidently answer any customer question about how our animals are raised and ensure the product they receive is exactly what we’ve promised.”

Sharing success

More than 50 new beef farmers are now working with AFD as a result of the new brands, raising and finishing cattle to meet the required specifications. Nolan notes the new supply demand for cattle raised under the AFD brands are providing farmers a new marketing option beyond a commodity market approach. “And farmers are happy,” he says. “We’re providing carcass feedback to participating farmers and our unique production protocols and value propositions are meeting their farm business needs.”

Nolan admits the success of the program has been overwhelming. Brand acceptance from existing customers and new business growth confirms what AFD had hoped – that Ontario consumers want to eat locally sourced beef that has been raised under the care of family farms. “What we didn’t expect were the number of phone calls that came in last fall from farmers interested in joining our program,” says Nolan. “It was fantastic to see the interest, but we just weren’t prepared. We’re still learning, and improving our farm onboarding process is a priority right now.” Nolan believes there’s still plenty of room for growth under the new brands – the Artisan sales team are working hard to promote the products and he hopes to bring on new farms to increase supply. “I encourage anyone interested in working with AFD to give us a call, we are always looking for new farmers to work with and enhancing market opportunities for Ontario beef is our goal.”

Looking ahead, Nolan is confident that brand development and evolving customer needs will lead to additional branding opportunities for Ontario beef under AFD. His focus will continue on business development, but the involvement in the RMI program has fostered new relationships within the beef industry, both locally and provincially that he will continue to focus on, too. “The RMI program has empowered and supported Artisan Farms. We are so grateful for the partnership with BFO, the credibility it brought to us and Ontario beef across the whole country, and the ongoing connections we’ve made in the industry and we look forward to being a part of new opportunities for the Ontario beef industry,” says Nolan.

For more information on AFD or their beef farmer partnership opportunities visit artisanfarms.ca.

BFO partner marketing programs

BFO’s Collaborative Partnership Program (CPP) is a program that started in 2017 and is supported by the Regional Marketing Initiative (RMI). Through the CPP, a cost-shared investment is available to industry partners for projects that align with BFO’s marketing and strategic objects.

  1. Increase market penetration for Ontario beef brands
  2. Maximize value of Ontario beef products
  3. Enhance consumer confidence in the Ontario beef industry
The CPP program is designed to stimulate industry alignment and encourage collaboration with industry partners and organizations to enhance the impact of the RMI. For more information on these projects visit ontariobeef.com/programs.


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