Marketing Montana Beef to Montana Schools

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There has been quite a bit of interest over the last few years about local foods.  Some of interest focuses on local foods as a tool to support the local economy. Others stories focus on the comfort of knowing the entire supply chain of a product from farm to plate.  Some also argue that local foods encourage healthier lifestyle choices.  Regardless of the motivations for the interest in local foods, a supply mechanism must exist to connect the producer to the consumer whether the food is local or not.  Montana State University is participating in a project titled “Beef to School” which has been examining some of the different business models that are connecting locally produced beef with K-12 school lunch programs in Montana. Case studies examining some of the different business models were recently released.

School lunch programs in Montana have offered beef menu items for decades.  These items include hamburgers, tacos, chili, spaghetti, lasagna, casseroles and many other items.  Most of the menu offerings utilize ground beef.  Sirloin steaks don’t show up on the menu very often. Many school lunch programs source most of their foods from a supplier than can provide many different products to the school from pasta to fruit to meats.  They place their order and a truck delivers the order on a regular basis.

Schools interested in offering local beef on their menu, they need to source their beef in a different way.  The case studies examine how these supply chains are organized.  Several key aspects of the supply chain are required to get local beef to school menus.  First, a producer must raise a calf from birth to 6-8 months of age. Second, someone must “finish” this animal by allowing it to grow to market weight either in a grass fed or feed lot environment.  Third, the animal must be slaughtered and processed by a state or federally licensed facility into retail cuts of meat.  Lastly, someone must market and distribute the meat to the final customer, in this case local schools.   The case studies highlight several very different models of who completes each of these steps in the supply chain.

The case studies can be accessed here.

More information on the entire project can be accessed here.

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About Author

Joel Schumacher

Joel Schumacher, an extension economics associate specialist in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics at Montana State University. Much of his research has focused on understanding the economics and public policy implications of small and community scale alternative energy projects. Joel also researches and provides extension training in retirement planning, saving and investing. Helping Montanans stay up to date on the ever changing laws and regulations affecting consumer issues is an interesting and challenging area.

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