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Forecasting Demand for Grass-fed Beef


For those of us ‘believers’, the potential for grazing animals and restored grasslands to sequester atmospheric carbon, and mitigate the impacts of climate change, is extremely exciting and hopeful.


Having long ago distanced ourselves from the faction within agriculture that denies humanity’s negative impact, we tend to fixate on keeping our discussions honest, and focused on expanding the regenerative practices that landowners are already finding success with.


Part of expanding regenerative agricultural practices is giving food buyers the choice to support the right farmers by buying their food directly from them. But so much of the production from regenerative farms is not market-ready, and the process of direct marketing can seem murky and mysterious to farms accustomed to monetizing their livestock and crops in the commodity supply chain. Connecting conscious consumers with regenerative farmers is going to take some time and new infrastructure to enable these satisfying foods to reach their emerging demand segment. Grass-fed beef marketing has been happening for quite a while, but so far, those investments did not materially crystallize into brand value attributes, beyond individual farmer direct marketers.


With the launch of A&W’s program in recent months, the attributes of grazed meats could start to overtake traditional beef marketing efforts in a significant way. The marketing of grass-fed beef by the restaurant chain, starting in 2021, is already causing ripple effects throughout the Canadian supply chain. The broad public messaging around pastured proteins is being further enabled and supported by new local food economies popping up to supply households with great meat directly from local farms.


Here are some of my initial observations of the future impact on country pricing of pastured meats.


  • Specific data on the demand for grass-fed beef and other pastured proteins (pork, chicken, bison and eggs; as well as pulse crops like lentils, beans and chickpeas) are scant and unreliable.

  • Whatever data is presented will not include new consumption of grass-fed beef in Canada through the A&W program, which will see a significant increase in 2021.

  • Specific data on the demand for grass-fed beef and other pastured proteins (pork, chicken, bison and eggs; as well as pulse crops like lentils, beans and chickpeas) are scant and unreliable.

  • Whatever data is presented will not include new consumption of grass-fed beef in Canada through the A&W program, which will see a significant increase in 2021.

  • To establish a processing agreement with a federally inspected meat plant in Canada, which is required to direct market meat outside the province of origin, larger volumes are generally required, beyond what most individual farms can produce and organize.

  • Labeled and branded grass-fed beef is rarely available in grocery stores, and other pastured proteins are either non-existent there, or not fully branded as such. Yet, pastured proteins are selling at a premium in small butcher shops and directly off farms.

  • Larger food retails appear interested to carry more regional pastured proteins, but the infrastructure is insufficient to create the supply at that scale. No aggregate data exist on supply and demand of local meat, or the slaughter capacity to enable it.


At the current time, it is apparent that thanks to the pandemic, pre-existing consumer values-based

buying patterns, and the A&W initiative, Canadian market demand is surging. Barriers to growth include:

  • An aging provincial slaughter capacity.

  • The lost art of butchering in most communities.

  • Inspection regulations designed to support a production system that does not match with modern consumer demand growth trends.


Provincial governments are seeking ways to upgrade physical infrastructure and labour supply and indicate a readiness to consider regulatory changes, for example Alberta passed an exemption for on-farm uninspected harvested meat to be sold commercially. This leads me to believe that the systemic limitations to connecting more buyers and sellers of grass-fed beef and other pastured proteins will be steadily alleviated in the months and years ahead.


In a review of online public opinions about grass-fed beef, it bears nothing that there is a startlingly high degree of skepticism of the environmental and nutritional claims. These may be helpful to informing individual farm marketing plans.


There appears to be less support for grass-fed beef in the U.S. than in Canada, and the

A&W program is only rolling out in Canada this year.

  • There is likely adequate supply to meet current and future demand for grass-fed beef in the U.S. for now, as there are already a multitude of high-profile meat farms direct shipping product across the country.

  • The grasslands for grazing in Canada may be healthier and well-managed compared to in the U.S. – this could shift demand towards healthier grazing systems in the years ahead, favouring Canada, but also other origins.

  • Pastured protein products carry value attributes that go hand in hand with local, which could limit demand growth overseas for Canadian-origin pastured proteins.

  • The pandemic is not going to make it any easier to ship meat outside the country than the massive challenge it already was for farmer direct marketers. By the time the pandemic is over, it’s likely that consumer spending habits will have shifted, and that the infrastructure will be in place to support more local buying.

  • Plant protein production and exports have a far easier set of regulatory and trade flow parameters compared to meat and other animal-based proteins.

In summary, I think the biggest opportunity for grass-fed beef is going to be into new local markets and via online ordering and direct shipping from farms to customers. To serve this new customer segment, the marketing claim of grass-fed will have to be backed with an origin story that convinces buyers of the ecological improvements happening in the farm's environment, and that eventually can prove outcomes.

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