ReGen Brands Recap #71

Dana Ehrlich @ Verde Farms

Verde Farm’s 100% Organic & Grass-Fed Beef Goes Regenerative

This episode features Dana Ehrlich, the Founder of Verde Farms. Verde Farms is supporting regenerative agriculture with its 100% USDA organic and grass-fed beef products. They have recently begun working with Land to Market™  to transition their supply to be verified regenerative. Their products can be found in grocery, natural food and clubs stores nationwide, as well as on Amazon Fresh.


Health, Travel, & Trial

Verde Farms was born out of Dana’sinterests in travel, food and the environment. After years working as an engineer and product manager at various tech firms in Silicon Valley, Dana felt it was time for a change and decided to pursue an MBA at Dartmouth. He knew he wanted to do something entrepreneurial, but he wasn’t sure exactly what. Following his passion for travel, during his MBA Dana studied for a semester in Buenos Aires, Argentina. There, his curiosity around meat was sparked. Dana had been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and in the US was unable to eat conventionally raised, grain-finished red meat without triggering his symptoms. However, in Argentina, he was able to thoroughly enjoy their grass-finished steaks pain-free.

Dana followed this curiosity, spending time on estancias enjoying fresh steak roasted over open fire while learning more about the open pasture, grass-fed style of ranching that the gauchos of Argentina have been practicing for decades. Upon his return to Dartmouth, Dana tested the idea of importing organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed beef with a few big pop-up barbeque events at the school. While it was challenging to figure out the sourcing logistics, the event pushed Dana to start setting up the foundation of what would become Verde Farms. 


Supply Chain First + Brand Second

Verde Farms officially launched in 2005 as an importer and distributor of organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised beef. Dana and his team worked to establish the supply chain, air-shipping small quantities of beef from Uruguay and selling it to local restaurants. It wasn’t until the firm landed its first major retail partnerships with Wegmans and Costco in 2009 that business began to really take off. 

Verde Farms continued to steadily grow its business and in 2018 invested in opening its own manufacturing facility in New Jersey. Having the ability to control stock and production of meat products proved critical once COVID-19 hit. In May 2020 their main co-packer shut down, but Verde Farms was able to rely on their own manufacturing facility to maintain supply and continue stocking retailer shelves. 

What began as a small business partnering to import high-quality beef from 18 ranchers in Uruguay has now grown into a recognizable brand found in retailers across the nation sourced from thousands of farms across the globe.

“We had a label, but I wouldn't say we really had a brand. And so we just had a very strong supply chain. I think there were 18 farmers in the program when we first launched and today there’s thousands globally.” - Dana 


Beefing Up On Brand

More recently Verde Farms has transitioned out ofall of its private label business and doubled down on its branded strategy, requiring a shift in its operations to understand consumer preferences and deliver products aligned with their needs. In 2020 Verde Farms took on a $15 million minority investment from Manna Tree Partners, enabling the company to invest in the resources and technology needed to grow as a CPG firm. 

“When we made this transition from being a private label company to a branded CPG company there were a number of transitions, and one was moving from customer first to consumer first. We did a lot of consumer research. We did focus groups, we did shop-alongs, we did qualitative surveys. And we wanted to tell a story, we wanted to evoke emotion. We wanted to show up differently in the case. And if you see our packaging today, it's totally different from anything else. And it's shown, we're now the number one velocity better-for-you beef item in the category.” - Dana 

Verde Farms’ consumer research has led them to focus on branding that evokes emotion and breaks away from traditional masculine and functional-focused messaging seen on meat shelves. Their packaging is vibrant, showing bright green rolling hills dotted with cows grazing under a bright yellow sun. Owning their manufacturing facility has also enabled Verde Farms to invest in functional improvements for the consumer, like easy-peel packaging. 

Verde Farms also listened to consumer feedback when deciding how to position its various attributes. They found the USDA Organic symbol to still be the most well-known by consumers, followed by “grass-fed” and “pasture-raised”. Organic continues to be their key differentiator on the shelf. For regenerative, they have placed the attribute on their packaging, but below the other attributes since the term is still growing in awareness on the consumer end. 

Overall, putting the consumer first and focusing on being a positive, stand-out brand is working well for Verde Farms: the company is growing at 10x the rate of conventional beef


Regen Ranching = Major Gains for All

Along with its brand relaunch, Verde Farms also announced it would be working with Land to Market™ to transition its supply chain to be certified regenerative. The shift to regenerative has felt like a natural progression to Dana in terms of the firm’s mission and business ethos. Verde Farms has always sourced organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised beef. When the company first started working with farms to become certified USDA Organic, it wasn’t a matter of farmers changing their practices, it was just a process of certification.

Regenerative certification on the other hand has required farmers to adopt new ways of ranching. For example, many of the farms they work with are roughly 800 to 1,000 acres, subdivided into a few sections where their cattle can roam about and graze. In regenerative ranching, the land is fenced off into much smaller one to two-hectare blocks and cattle are rotated into different blocks every few days. In this process, the cows eat through the grass in the blocked-off section quickly, leaving behind manure and stomping it into the soil as they walk around. These practices mixed with long rest periods results in farms seeing much healthier soil and grass that grows back more rapidly.

While this process requires farmers to invest upfront in virtual or physical fencing, regenerative ranching has proven to be more profitable in the long run. Cows managed in this high-density grazing system are reaching their slaughter weight in 20 to 24 months instead of 30 to 36. The shortened life cycle also results in more tender and flavorful meat, a win for the customer as well. 

“We've gone a step further and said there's demand for regenerative practices. Not only do you have to do paperwork, but you actually need to change your practices as well. That's a much higher lift. And so there's definitely a price premium that we're extending to the producers. Now they're also seeing a shortened life-cycle to reach slaughter weight, so they're actually being more profitable as well. And so there's a lot of benefit at the farm level for implementing these [regenerative] practices from a pure profitability standpoint.” -Dana

Moving forward, Verde Farms will continue to work with Land to Market™ to not only certify their suppliers but also measure the environmental benefits of regenerative ranching. Dana has seen first-hand how the pastures under regenerative management are more biodiverse and better able to capture water, which is crucial for ranching environments that experience little rain. Land to Market™ will capture and analyze data on ground cover, water infiltration, biodiversity, soil carbon and soil health through their Ecological Outcome Verification monitoring.


50% Market Share 4 Regen

Dana’s answer for getting regen to fifty percent market share is straightforward: educate consumers and deliver high-quality,great-tasting products. He believes that the more consumers are aware of how regenerative beef can be a solution to global environmental challenges, the more they will demand these types of products. 

Verde Farms' transition to regenerative is showing that this model is more profitable to the farmer, better for the environment, better for the consumer and overall, better for the business. Verde Farms’ impressive growth is proof that regenerative meat is making strides in capturing market share. 

“The better-for-you beef segment – and the one with the most attributes – is the highest growth within the beef sector. And over the last five years in a row, we've continued to take share. And what started out as a very small segment is now a meaningful part. It's still minority share for sure, but it has continued to take share year after year.” - Dana 


This ReGen Recap was written by Katey Finnegan

The illustrations were created by Stacey Shaller

You can check out the full episode with Dana Ehrlich @ Verde Farms HERE

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