Marble Creek Acres

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Finding your Niche --- USDA Private Label

Farm visits bring out the freezer on wheels.
By Josh Crise

By Josh Crise

Featured in the August issue of Goat Rancher (pages 17 & 18).

Featured in the August issue of Goat Rancher (pages 17 & 18).

Have any of you considered what your fiscal year looks like? Do you use the standard calendar year? Is your fiscal year based around tax season? Or do you base your fiscal year and your planning around the start of breeding season or kidding season? There is so much to consider as we begin to plan but it also leaves me reflecting on the past year, not specifically about planning but what went well and what I want to repeat or continue doing in the next year. What activities am I specifically engaged in that help me get the most bang for my buck? Pun intended. As the final kids are being picked up and heading out to various farms this week, some as far away as 750 miles, I am left with what is working and thankful to be able to close on a number of sales this fiscal year. But what’s next? What do I want to continue to focus on? What do I stop doing? Aside from planning and getting ready, how or what do I do to keep revenue flowing in the offseason? A little here, a little there, as you know goes a long way until the next kidding season. We are not a large operation, nor do we have space currently to maintain more than about 20-25 head over the winter so every idea plays a key role in our ongoing success.

That leads me to one area that needs more focus but seems to be making a difference in our long term growth … USDA Private Labeling of our goat meat for sale. And really just a few extra phone calls and emails. Okay and maybe some reading and research too but it offered me the opportunity to sell USDA private labeled goat meat direct from my home. Sure, there are lots of considerations; proper insurance, licenses, etc. and I encourage anyone reading and considering USDA or for that matter state private labeling to do their own research and investigation to make sure you cover yourself appropriately, but adding this niche to my farm added some depth and breadth that has provided some extra revenue throughout the year.

But let’s back up, how did I find myself even considering USDA private labeling goat meat for sale? I mean truthfully, we hear about commercial operations, but I am not sure I have ever seen anyone speak to private labeling. Honestly, I never even considered it a possibility until … well ... my wife dragged me to the farmers market in another part of the state. Yah, my journey to explore USDA private labeling started with a simple trip to the farmers market. My wife was nagging me … ok nudging me. I say that in the most loving way. She just wanted out of the house for the day on a short adventure, and let’s add, at least I hope, to spend time with me! Admittedly, I am NOT what you might call a creature of habit but I am task- and goal-oriented so when I set my sights on getting something done, and yes lists might be involved in getting it done, I don’t like to deviate, I just want to get it done. Side trips are disruptive to me getting it done and so I struggle to just go have fun when there is something to be finished or moved forward. With that said, that side trip helped me find a niche to further market goats and goat meat in the offseason for our operation. Mind you, I live in rural Northern Maine and quite frankly there just isn’t as large of a need for goat meat but I am gaining traction. Just last week I sold $70 in goat meat off the farm during a farm visit.

Let’s explore the farm visit. A great opportunity for an upsell or add-on. Many producers find the farm visit painful. I enjoy them. It is an opportunity to meet with like-minded folks and well, let’s face it, an opportunity for an upsell. Some producers put a donation bucket out while others set a schedule for hours, or set an appointment. We invite visitors pretty much any time. We have even had visitors ask if we take donations or if there is a fee. Our answer has always been no but what we have found is that it is a prime opportunity to sell goat meat direct from the freezer and farm to table. I have a small 7 cubic foot freezer that I made a small, custom dolly for so we can roll it around. And we added custom cut boards to it to help divide and keep the meat organized in the freezer. We place a few of every cut in the baskets at the top and the rest below in the bottom to make it easy to peruse. Of course, a commercial freezer with a clear glass top would be ideal but you have to start somewhere, right? We have added truck magnets to the front and top, price lists and business cards to dress it all out. When customers come by for a farm visit, we remove the sheet covering the freezer and roll it to the front of the barn for easy access and proper lighting. It provides a terrific opportunity to close with a sell, provide a price list for goat meat and hand out a business card for future business.

My experience may be different than others but I am a firm believer, if you do not ask, you can’t get told no, so I found myself reaching out to local butchers and meat processing facilities to see what steps I needed to take to get set up. Keep in mind local is relative when you are in rural Northern Maine. I found out along the way when getting my small business license, that at least in Maine, you only need USDA approval to sell across state lines so I may be able to find a processing facility closer that offers state-approved private labeling. However, after finding the right processing facility, in my case Herring Brothers (Establishment 9760) of Guilford, Maine, (to read more about our operation, and specifically our USDA Private Label, visit, they informed me that I needed to create or have created a label with some pretty basic information, including the USDA Inspection stamp with Establishment number, “Keep Refrigerated, May Be Frozen”, contact information including company name and any other pertinent positioning I might like to have on the label. I did find out along the way that any assertions I made, needed a special letter to the USDA for approval which I supplied to the processor who filed it for approval with the USDA. About 4-6 weeks later I had my approval and then had my private labels created and sent to the processor to have on hand anytime I have goats to process. Of course, they will process and package the meat to whatever cut and weight you require. And then you are off and running. For me, there was no immediate boom or run on meat sales but we have steadily sold goat meat farm to table for over a year now.

It’s not for everyone but if you are looking to break into a niche market that appears very promising, you might look into getting your meat approved with the USDA with your own private label. It’s not an overly difficult process. Sure there are hoops to jump through but I can think of many other processes that are much more difficult out there and it is a terrific way to provide an add-on during every farm visit, whether they are there to pick up breeding stock or just out to see your operation. You know as well as I do … every dollar counts.

(Josh and Kathy Crise, and their grown children, Amelia and Kevin, operate Marble Creek Acres in Lee, Maine. For interest in a future year’s Kiko waitlist, or any other questions, we can be reached at 207-619-3758, email [email protected] or