On this episode, we have Matt Maier who is the Founder, Owner, and Chief Grass Farmer at Thousand Hills Lifetime Grazed.
Thousand Hills is supporting regenerative agriculture with its vast array of fresh and value-added 100% grass-fed, grass-finished, and regenerative beef products.
In this episode, we learn about Matt’s background as a CPG brand manager and marketing consultant and the trip back home to the family farm that inspired him to start a better beef brand. Matt shares the 20-year journey of Thousand Hills Lifetime Grazed that has led them to recently become the number one meat brand in the natural channel of retail.
🎉 Celebrating 20 years of Thousand Hills Lifetime Grazed!
💥 Matt’s background as a CPG brand manager & marketing consultant
💭 The inspiration to work on regen beef after returning to the farm
🥇 Becoming the number one meat brand in the natural channel
👏 Selling products in all 50 states and sourcing from 50+ family farms
🔥 How value-added product development helps them win
😯 Why their prices will only go up as they scale
🥩 Exciting nutrient density studies coming soon!
🧐 How imported grass-fed beef affects domestic brands
🤯 Working with Lorentz Meats and now 15 total processors
ReGen Brands Recap #50 - A 20-Year Winning Formula For Regenerative Beef - (RECAP LINK)
Disclaimer: This transcript was generated with AI and is not 100% accurate.
Kyle Krull - 00:00:15
Welcome to the ReGen Brands Podcast. This is a place for consumers, operators and investors to learn about the consumer brands, supporting regenerative agriculture and how they're changing the world. This is your host Kyle, joined by my co-host, AC, who's going to take us into the episode.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:00:33
On this episode, we have Matt Maier who is the Founder, Owner, and Chief Grass Farmer at Thousand Hills Lifetime Grazed. Thousand Hills is supporting regenerative agriculture with its vast array of fresh and value-added 100% grass-fed, grass-finished, and regenerative beef products. In this episode, we learn about Matt's background as AC PG brand manager and marketing consultant and the trip back home to the family farm that inspired him to start a better beef brand. Matt shares the 20 year journey of Thousand Hills Lifetime Grazed to date that has recently led them to become the number one meat brand in the natural channel of retail. Big time. Thousand Hills is a trailblazing brand that has been regenerative even before it was cool to be. And Matt takes us on the epic journey. It has been shares some of his thoughts for the future.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:01:16
Plus he gives us a behind the scenes look into operating a regenerative beef brand sold in all 50 states, working with 15 different processors and sourcing from over 50 farms, managing 600,000 acres of land. Wow, let's dive in. What's up everybody? Welcome back to another episode of the ReGen Brands Podcast. Very excited today to have my friend Matt from Thousand Hills Lifetime Grazed joining us. So welcome Matt.
Matt Maier - 00:01:49
Hello, thanks for having me, Anthony. Glad to be here.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:01:52
Um And we're excited to have you. You are uh what I consider one of the, you know, one of the trailblazers and the ogs as the young kids would say in this space. Um I think the website educated me today that, that y'all have been around since 2003, Matt. So just appreciate all the work you've done in the space and really excited to kind of unpack all of it on the episode, man.
Matt Maier - 00:02:12
Yeah, great. Glad to be here
Anthony Corsaro - 00:02:15
for, for those, for those that aren't aware of Thousand Hills or haven't heard of y'all. Just give us a quick overview of, of the brand.
Matt Maier - 00:02:23
Ok. Thousand Hills Lifetime Grazed. Uh We're a CPG brand distributed in all 50 states. And I'm very proud to say in the last year or so, we became the number one fresh protein refrigerated or frozen brand in the natural retail channel. So according to spin retail channel, we're the number one brand. We have six of the top 10 skews in the country. And, uh, you know, like I said, we're distributed in all 50 states. So we really seek out retailers that share our values. We've made some mistakes in the past and we really focused on that target. Uh And so we're available at uh co-ops natural food stores, natural Grocers, other regional chains.
Matt Maier - 00:03:00
Um And again, those that as a consumer, you can trust that they are vetting companies in the categories that they offer. And, you know, it's so overwhelming as a consumer to be the expert on every food category these days. I tell everyone to, to trust that retailer that shares their values.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:03:38
Well, man, that is, that is outstanding on that spins data and just congrats on all that and we know it's, it's been quite a journey. Um So I guess, you know, take us back to where this started 20 some years ago. Uh and how it all came about and, and how we got here.
Matt Maier - 00:03:54
Well, I'm probably going to take you back further than that because it goes, goes back to my youth. Um Really is where this started. Um I didn't know it at the time but uh I uh was raised on a small multi species grass based farm on Central Minnesota. I was the only boy in the family and my dad worked in a factory. So especially during the summer, but really year round the farm was a responsibility of mine along with him. Yeah, he'd get home at 4 30. So I had basically from 3 30 to 4 30 to do my homework and then we'd be outside until 10, 10 30 working. And, uh, you know, I, I didn't know any different and I enjoyed the work but, um, it was a great upbringing. I mean, we were just so immersed in nature and animals and I was involved in four age with cattle, sheep, you know, all kinds of different projects.
Matt Maier - 00:04:48
Um And I, I had a sister that was closer in age, so we kind of teamed up, she was also just an outside person. So we spent a lot of time outside a lot of time. Um And then, you know, uh ended up come into time to go to college and no one had to convince me it seemed like part time work to me go to just all I had to do was go to school and while I work nights too, but I guess I've worked full time my entire life or more and I still do. Um But uh that led me into, uh I, I bounced around in different majors, but I found my real passion and interest was entrepreneurship and business. So I um went off and I was uh graduated and went to uh Swans as a brand manager because I basically came from no money. And I thought, well, how do I start a business?
Matt Maier - 00:05:42
And I thought, well, brand management gives you a chance to run a business inside a business. And at the time, entrepreneurship was a big term where people were entrepreneurs inside the company. So basically I got, I got my dream job um as being a brand manager did that for a few years, realized the corporate world would let Earth, we let all that was not for me. Good people learned a lot. I learned a ton in just a few years and started my own marketing agency. Um and uh Swans was good enough to allow me to start with some projects and ended up having a really nice roster of, you know, a fortune 500 food companies for. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Matt Maier - 00:06:21
Yeah. I mean, you name the food company, I probably worked with them, you know, all the protein companies for sure. And then, you know, the General Mills, Pillsbury, Mondale, you, you name it had was very fortunate. Um Minnesota
Anthony Corsaro - 00:06:59
and the Twin Cities has a great food scene for those. I mean, I'm from the Midwest so I have a little bit of a purview into it. But I feel like a lot of people around the country don't understand. There's a lot of really good retailers, brands, farmers, there's some really cool stuff going on in that state and in the twin cities,
Matt Maier - 00:07:15
you know, that's, that's interesting, you bring that up because uh there's a consortium of the University of Minnesota, you know, the governor and the large food companies and small startups, they, they have this, what's called, uh, grow North and really being recognized as an international food hub. Um, yeah, so it's a very vibrant food community in all states, you know, from start up to very large. And that, yeah, that's fine. And that's part of what my career choice was. It was very pragmatic. I mean, I, I knew I had to earn a living. I knew food was big in Minneapolis. I wanted to be involved in some way with food and, or agriculture. So that's how I chose food. It was like, well, there's a lot around here. I should be able to earn a living somehow.
Matt Maier - 00:07:50
Um But then I started a marketing agency. So I worked with these food companies through my marketing agency and uh really go go years for 10 years plus and had the opportunity to sell that during a big consolidation in the industry around the turn of the century around 2000 already. Uh Y2K. So I had that opportunity, sold it and uh had a chance at the same time was moving my family back to a lot that was adjacent to the farm. I grew up on. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, that's cool.
Matt Maier - 00:08:28
I was one of those guys that's like, oh, I, I gotta, I gotta move my family out of the suburbs. I want them to experience some of what I experienced. And I was actually out deer hunting on my dad's farm. And I saw this construction going on in this woods that I normally deer hunted near and checked into it. And it turned out just by the grace of God, there was this one lot that was sold, but the buyer backed out on it like that week so I could buy it. And it literally my backyard became our 120 acre farm.
Matt Maier - 00:09:03
So, you know, four wheelers and animals and being outside and became a part of my children's life too. They were very young at the time. And um, so that gave me a little time out. So the company didn't make, you know, a whole bunch of money, but enough. So I could take, you know, a year off and decide, ok, what am I gonna do next? And what I witnessed when I moved my family back to the farm and what I witnessed of all the small farms we're in, you know, we're 45 minutes west of Minneapolis, small farm territory, 20 to 100 and 20 acres where all my friends grew up on those farms.
Matt Maier - 00:09:46
They all looked very similar. They have deep crop rotations, multi species grass based. So I moved back just like 20 some years later and it's completely changed. The animals are gone. None of the farms had animals. Uh A couple of large operators are running corn and soy and all the tillable fields and didn't really excuse my French give a shit about the land.
Matt Maier - 00:10:20
It was just extract and then if it didn't produce a crop anymore, just move on, you know, little fields, 10, 20 acre fields and all the pastures were sitting idle. So in my deer stand, I'm thinking about what I'm gonna do next. And it came to me that, uh, this research study that I found that showed that the single biggest thing you can do to improve the food system is to graze cattle holistically on the land. The single biggest thing. And I thought, oh, I did that as a kid, I can do this, you know, I can graze cattle. Uh So I started searching out what brands were in the space. I'm a marketing guy brands, you know, and found Thousand Hills, Thousand Hills needed some capital.
Matt Maier - 00:11:06
There was an opportunity to invest. I invested. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I found him at a conference cornered them said, hey, you know, here's my situation and uh we worked together about five years. We had a little different vision on the company.
Matt Maier - 00:11:23
I wanted to be able to do what I described earlier, take a distribution, conventional food distribution nationally through the natural channel. And uh he had a little different vision. So I ended up having the opportunity to buy him out. Um And that was over 10 years ago, 15 years ago. And um you know, then we was able to implement that strategy. Um And really that experience of moving the family back and watching what happened in conventional food, uh kind of like how the ingredients are chosen and how the products were processed.
Matt Maier - 00:12:06
And the det of the nutrition of the food, um helped me to have conviction about having this strict protocol that in our producer protocol that cattle are grazed. We're not feeding distiller grains, we're not taking shortcuts or compromises, you know, all the nose of organic and, and I thought if I if there's not a place in the market for this, well, then I'm not gonna do it because this is where the benefits come. Only if you have the Protocol District. Do you get all the benefits that everyone talks about? So, you know, whether that's nutrient density or water cycle or you, you name the benefit, there's plenty of benefits.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:13:10
Yeah, we're gonna, we're gonna get into all that. I'm excited to get into all that. Did you have to build that from a proprietary perspective and kind of pick and choose from some existing protocols matt or did y'all adopt? You know, I know y'all are with kind of eov and the savory deal. Now, I know you are like grass fed certified from the grass fed exchange. But how did you build that initially at the gates?
Matt Maier - 00:13:30
It's a great question. We built our protocol from the ground up. There was really nothing like it. There may have been somewhere regionally but I didn't see anything like it. And, you know, the founder built the original version when I became the sole owner, I tightened it up further, but he had similar vision. I just took out a couple of things that were compromises I felt, but we built that protocol and then what's interesting about the certifications is we didn't have any third party certifications at the time. But a
Anthony Corsaro - 00:14:09
that would have been what year Matt, like, just like,
Matt Maier - 00:14:12
like, 09, 10, 11, 12, right around. There was when we overlapped. Um And so yeah, up until four years ago, we didn't have a third party certification. But the American Grass Fed Association, I can't say enough because about them because their protocol was strict and I believe they had gone through a tightening process as loopholes were discovered in grass fed and what the USDA would allow. They did a similar uh process that we went through as a company where they tightened up, you know, domestic only and all the nose and cattle grazing on the land and no confinement. And, and so when I discovered that there, we basically had parallel protocols. I'm like, ok, great. Now we can have a third party certification because this is the first one that I found that's strict enough that meets our protocol and then on the land of market. Well, you know, that was when regenerative started getting thrown around, you know, 567 years ago. Um I could, I felt like, OK, this is gonna be something it makes sense, but it's gonna get green washed because you can use the word pretty loosely if you want to.
Matt Maier - 00:15:13
Um So I felt the land to market uh program with the data based outcomes was very important. So it's not Matt said this is regenerative or whatever the brand says, it's like no data, data showing progress and the benefits over time will solidify our credibility.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:16:02
Yeah, and I definitely think that's the way of the future. Um I think Eov and land market have done a great job kind of pioneering that mindset, right? Um And being I think a really high bar uh and holding the line there because ultimately, if we're talking about healing the land and there being more life after the fact that when we started, right? And that being a continual process of improvement, you have to validate that somehow through outcomes. Um And they seem to just have a really amazing program that does that in a holistic man, you know, in, in that holistic management framework that that is phenomenal,
Matt Maier - 00:16:36
you know, and as you're saying that I'm like, yeah, they have a high bar and it's a lot of work, you know, we're, we were just monitoring my farm. Well, not we but the people that do the monitoring and uh we have 20 different monitoring spotss on the roughly 800 acres that we graze. So it's a lot of work we go to every ranch and every farm. But, you know, it's like it's worth it. Uh, sometimes I get a little jealous of the brands that get by without doing that, but only for a second then I'm like, no, this is what we have to do. So it's good
Anthony Corsaro - 00:17:18
Matt from a business perspective. You know, we've had a couple of the other brands that aggregate in this space. Hickory Nut Gap Force of Nature, but we didn't get into the weeds with Robbie or Jamie on like, what is it like to sit back as the person operating the business and say, ok, how do we find these other ranchers? How do we like coalesce this supply? How do we do all the monitoring? How do we make sure they're hitting the protocols? Like, I guess just, just give us a peek behind the curtain as to like, how does that actually work operationally? Because I think on the website, I saw sourcing from over 50 farms now that are on over 600,000 acres. I mean, that's, that's a huge supply base. Right.
Matt Maier - 00:17:54
Yeah. Well, it really starts with the moral fiber of the producer that you're working with and just like any group of people, there's a range there. And I think one of the huge benefits of being in this space for 20 years is that we've been able to slew through those producers, just like the retailers I talked about earlier, the producers that share our values. You know, we find producers that are not concerned so much about their generation. They're concerned about the next generation. Whether they have Children or not is irrelevant to them. They're just concerned about the next generation and if they are not interested in taking shortcuts or compromises, um and they truly want to do the right thing and they truly are trying to improve the land and trying to learn along the way. You can decipher that pretty quickly through a couple of conversations and a visit. Um You can, you, it's just like meeting anybody, you know, it doesn't take that long to figure out what their true motivation is.
Matt Maier - 00:18:52
If it's just, I need to make a buck as fast as I can and I'm gonna do whatever I have to, to make that buck. Well, then we're not interested because that's not our approach to the market. Um But I love, uh, our producers, I mean, their commitment is beyond our commitment. Their commitment is beyond any consumer's commitment. I mean, they are committing their whole being to this way of life and they're not putting money first, they're putting the practices first, the lifestyle first. It's funny just I got to share this quick story. Yeah. Yeah, please. So at our 20th anniversary party, we have panels, we have tours, we have all this going on breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was an amazing day. Just amazing.
Matt Maier - 00:19:43
And um my son who is helping me on the farm, managing our farm is young, 22 years old and he recently made this decision that he wanted to do something in this space on the farm, which surprised me, didn't think it was ever going to happen. But I put him on one of the panels because I wanted some real discussion about what happens with family and producers and all of this. And, and so I said, his name is Mchale. I said, Mchale, let's get real here in one of my questions. You, you talked to me about compensation fairly frequently and, you know, darn well, you could make more annually if you went to mcdonald's and flipped burgers than what you're making, managing our farm. So let's talk about that frustration.
Matt Maier - 00:20:31
And um I had one of our bigger producers stand up before he could even answer. Well, he had a short answer and before he got into it more, and then the producer step up and said, well, what your son needs to understand is this is a lifestyle, this is a choice and we're not making it because of money now. You need to make ends meet. But yeah, you can probably pick 10 other occupations right now that you could do better. But probably none of those are going to have as big of an impact as you're having right now. So that was just an awesome moment because, you know, I, I don't blame him for looking, you know, like, jeez. You know, I, I've got this friend that I went to high school with that's a plumber and he's making three times what I am.
Matt Maier - 00:21:25
You know, and, you know, and he's, but he also sees the big vision and what we're trying to accomplish and what we're trying to do with the land. Um, so he's learning that it is a lifestyle and it is for all of our producers.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:21:54
Yeah, I think that's certainly been what I've seen through all these conversations, no matter what kind of crop and geography we're talking about in the regenerative sphere. Um But one thing that gives me great hope and one thing that motivates me to continue to do the work is the regenerative brands, like the one that you lead are getting those incomes as high as they possibly can, right? Versus when those folks are selling into the commodity markets or, or working with other brands, they're not able to get as high of an ro I on, on their products, which I think is, you know, we got to continue to talk about that because that is, that sets the precedent for why we need to build these brands, you know, and fund them and support them and grow them, et cetera.
Matt Maier - 00:22:32
Well, I get interesting questions from meat buyers at retail, you know, grocery buyers and they say, well, jeez Matt, your brand is growing quite a bit. It's grown over the years. So at what point does this scale allow you to reduce prices? And I say it ain't gonna happen. The only direction our prices are gonna go is up. Sorry to tell you. But because we're not nowhere near reflecting the value in the package and we're nowhere near paying the producer what they need just to be financially solvent, let alone prosperous. So our cheap food mentality is driven down the cost of food. But then we see what that consolidation and that type of agri there's so many things that the type of agriculture reduction is thinking and the reduction in the nutrient density. And I mean, it just goes and the consolidation.
Matt Maier - 00:23:20
So you go through the pandemic and Walmart doesn't have meat on the shelf, right? Well, why is that? Because you know, all these beef are going through one plant and sure that's efficient, but that's been our driving force. What's the most efficient? How many bushels per acre? What can we, what can we do bigger, faster, stronger in every area of food? When in reality, we need to look the other way and say, how do we, how do we, first of all steward the land?
Matt Maier - 00:23:53
But then how do we steward the land in a way that increases the nutrient density? That helps our water cycle. That helps the pollinators that you know, provides the food we need in a resilient model. And guess what? It's gonna cost more because we uh we don't want to go down the same path we've done before with this regenerative movement. You know, the last thing I want to do is consolidate cattle into one plant or figure out the fastest way it can make that animal grow by giving it the most supplements and the most, you know, sugar and the most all you know, starch to get it to grow for.
Matt Maier - 00:24:29
No, no, that's no, no, we need to go in the other direction, more diversity, more care, more stewardship and we'll be much better off people if we do that.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:24:57
Yeah. And the website does a really good job of telling that story really clearly with some citations and some really cool facts and, and data. So I give kudos to you and the marketing folks over there for that and anyone who hasn't looked at the Thousand Hills website definitely check that out. Um Matt, I'm gonna ask you a personal question. Yeah, you're welcome. Um Couple of Midwest guys, you know, on this podcast right now and we, we really have this disease of GMO corn and soy where we're from, right? And I understand the incentives. I understand why farmers are doing what they're doing.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:25:15
So I don't wanna, you know, totally point the finger at the farmer and say bad farmer, right? Because the the basically the whole system is designed for me to do that, but I wanna make a couple of points and kind of ask the question back to you being, you know, I don't think we really are gonna move the needle on region until we kind of solve this corn and soy problem. And to me, the best way to solve it is to get more of those people getting pasture livestock and grass based systems back into things. There's a whole bunch of things to talk about on that topic. Um But, you know, I kind of want to get your opinion on the cultural dynamic. You know, what has that been like growing and having a system like this in the middle of, you know, corn and soy country, uh, just personally and culturally, like with your neighbors and with other folks and, you know, have you seen it have an effect?
Anthony Corsaro - 00:26:00
Like how do we, how do we change, you know, some of these systems back to things that have a much more nutrient dense, you know, food output and they're doing the environmental ecosystem services that, that places like yourself are.
Matt Maier - 00:26:28
Yeah, that's a big question, you know, in the upper midwest, I don't know. Uh, unfortunately I'll give you the bad news first. It's more difficult to convert land out of corn and soy than it is anything else into a diverse grassland for grazing. There's nowhere in the country that's more difficult than in our corn belt. And so the progress there as a result is slower, um, it does happen, we have some green shoots popping up here and there. Um, but I, I don't know, it's, it's a, it's so tough now how I think, how we get there is by showing that you can survive, uh, financially, which gets back to the cost of the product. So I'm, you know, it, it's, it's, it, it, it ends up being a, a financial, you know, we need a financial tipping point if we really want land to convert in mass. Um there's pockets where it does kind of catch on and producers start to talk to each other and then there's large swaths where nothing's changing. Um So I don't have the answer.
Matt Maier - 00:27:47
What I hope is that we, we, we are part of creating the market that can give the financial returns so that when you get into a place where your inputs are so expensive in conventional egg that you are forced to look at other options that were there. And we say, ok, we can provide the steadiness of the market. You will have a market, here's the price because we try really hard not to fluctuate with the commodity market. And just our price is our price and move slowly so that when a calf hits the ground, a producer can calculate what they're gonna be able to sell it for which I think is really important. I mean, nobody wants to take on the risk of the volatility of a commodity market, right. At least I don't want to and a producer can't if they're really gonna pencil this out.
Matt Maier - 00:28:51
So I think it starts on the, well, it's obviously starting on the fringes and then gain some momentum. You know, like if I look at my own farming sample, which is just a tiny, tiny microcosm, um I started with 100 and 20 acres on our home, home farm that I rented from dad and some of it got taken out, you know, ended the contract with CRP. So I was able to start grazing that. And then over time, I've been able to add 20 different landowners to our grazing that are adjacent to our farm. So I see it as my community aspect, my community project. But now that sounds like a lot.
Matt Maier - 00:29:34
But, you know, they, they could be a landowner with as little as 13 acres, but every one of them in some way or another are getting an education on regenerative agriculture as it relates to grazing cattle. Um And, you know, they love it once they see the light, they love it. So I've kind of come across the answer on my own, I guess in that it may not be the farmer, it may be the landowner making choices for their land.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:30:29
Yeah. And so much of that, so much of the row crop land in the Midwest is owned by someone, you know, a non uh I forget the proper term. It's tenant farm, right? So the owner of the land doesn't actually live there or they don't farm it, right. So uh tools to innovate that model or better incentivize or set different kind of goals and standards would be, would be huge there. Um Now I wanna, I wanna talk about the brand but I wanna just, just touch on the agronomy a little bit more and then, and then move on which the last question just being, you know, I think something that we try to do for the audience is just frame like a basic, like how is your product different than maybe conventional and like a little bit better than conventional? And then there's like Thousand Hills, right? So like maybe it's conventional beef, it's grass fed but maybe not, not grass finished. And then it's like fully grass fed grass finished, 100% pastures, regenerative. Thousand Hills. So maybe just break that down.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:31:11
We have a pretty educated audience, but I know it's always good to just do a little overview there.
Matt Maier - 00:31:31
Well, for cattle, pretty much all cattle, all calves start on grass uh with their mama cow. And then when they're anywhere from 6 to 9 months old, there's a decision made. Do they stay on grass a little longer in background on grass or do they go directly into a feedlot? Um and wherever, you know, 90 something percent of our beef in this country end up in a feedlot one way or another. And so they're confinement fed and their confinement fed an unnatural diet for being a ruminant with four stomachs, meaning heavy starch. Um and not forages, four stomachs to break down cellulose into meat and milk. They're unique animal to do that. Um And we, you know, and our infinite wisdom as humans have decided, we can kind of break that process and speed it up. And then in that result, you get an unintended consequence of red meat being advertised by the American Heart Association is bad for you.
Matt Maier - 00:32:17
Well, I will say conventional beef is still a nutrient dense product um in relative to some other proteins. Um but there's no comparison in the nutrient density of the product when it's fed a natural diet, when the cattle are fed a natural diet of forages. Um Now, you know, we are what our food ate and, you know, it just makes common sense that if an animal is getting a diverse diet of grasses, legumes Forbes for its lifetime, that it, that it's actually suited to consume, it's gonna net in a better product. Um So for me and you know, we're participating in a USDA study on nutrient density and some of the initial oh gosh, some of the initial returns are amazing. They are what we thought they'd be, but it's just all the more gratifying when you start to see the numbers. Um and the comparisons.
Matt Maier - 00:33:40
Um so, you know, we can take a product that's said to be you know, be careful how much you consume and not great for you. The Omega six fatty acids out of ratio with the Omega three fatty acids and on down the line and turn it around to be something that actually is good for your heart and good for your brain and good for your body. Um And to me that whole, taking the same animal and transforming it to something that can actually be just confidently consumed and knowing that you're doing something good for the land, you're doing something good for habitat and you're most of all doing something good for yourself. I mean, I'm a cancer survivor as well. And so that was really the catalyst that got me looking into nutrition and food as medicine because I don't really believe I've spent a lot of cancer in my family. We can talk about the high, you know, cancer incidences in this corn belt that you brought up earlier and, you know. Mhm. I had an organic lawn care company when I was in college in 1987 86 and my research then showed it back then. All those years ago.
Matt Maier - 00:34:52
I found that the highest per capita incidence of cancer was in Iowa. Well, that hasn't changed much, you know, what's in our water, what's in our food? Um, and how are we treating our health as a nation? You know, there's some European countries that won't even buy the products that we buy at our fast food joints, they won't even let their people eat it, but yet it's ok for us. Um, so that little, you know, boat with cancer for me was like, ok, I have to, you know, I'm supposedly I've worked in food my whole life but I don't really know much about nutrition or much about how food can act as medicine. And, um, you know, that's real, man, you're talking about people's lives. I just had a cousin pass away, you know, 45 years old, died of cancer. Um It shouldn't be happening.
Matt Maier - 00:36:15
You know, it just, it should not be happening, it doesn't have to happen, put it that way
Anthony Corsaro - 00:36:35
and folks that listen to this program regularly are not um gonna be surprised by this take because we talk about it a lot. But we really, you know, I think Kyle and I are really firmly convinced that this whole nutrient density health and wellness angle is how regenerative becomes more mainstream and, and scales past its current point because at the end of the day, it still is a self-interest market. And um you know, we are seeing that people want to be healthy, they want to make healthier choices. I mean, I this is anecdotal but I eat grass, fed and grass finished regenerative bison or beef five plus days a week and I've never felt better. So I'm personally, I'm personally throwing the testimonial out there. Um But wanna shift, wanna shift the conversation there to the commercial kind of brands I met and just, you know, I, I haven't asked the question this way on any previous episodes, but it feels right to do to do it this way today. Um It's been a long 20 year journey right now. Number one, number one brand in the natural channel.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:37:24
Just like what, what are the top three things that have allowed that success or what are the, the top three things that stick out in your mind on that journey that have led to the commercial success?
Matt Maier - 00:37:41
Well, you know, I, I have to start with standards um because again, we're, we have very strict standards and that gives the retailers that we've targeted the natural channel confidence that we're going to deliver on what we say we're going to deliver on. So to me, it starts with the standard and then a consumer has to have a good eating experience. I mean, I tell everyone that I ever talked to for more than five minutes about grass fed. Hey, you've probably had a bad experience with grass fed beef and whether that was last year or 15 years ago, give it another try because there's been a lot of progress. I mean, even we made a lot of mistakes in the early days on genetics of cattle and finishing and forages and you know, trying to have those standards without necessarily having the cattle in place that would deliver the excellent eating experience. So, um it has to be, has to be AAA really good eating experience to, to be able to grow. And then, um I would say consumers have really driven this.
Matt Maier - 00:38:44
I mean, we can go on the shelf, we can have a great product, we can convince a retailer to put it on the shelf because of our standards and our products. But if a consumer doesn't pick it up, it doesn't happen. So consumers are driving this and I and I would, the one thing I'd really like to impart is don't underestimate the power of your purchasing decisions. And your influence with your retailer is if five people came into the same retailer and demanded a product or demanded a change, it would happen because so few consumers speak up. Those five that speak up, have a disproportional voice. So take advantage of that.
Matt Maier - 00:39:25
Um So yeah, and that's the way it'll go forward, you know, consumers are going to choose, we can't force anyone to buy the product. Um And either the demand is there for growth and conversion of land or it's not. Um But that's what I would say, standards, product consumers,
Anthony Corsaro - 00:40:05
how ma how has the, the product innovation pipeline and the more ready made items. How that, how is that played into your strategy? Because y'all are doing like, I believe like chilies and bone broth. I've had some of them, you know, at natural rushers and stuff, you're not just doing meat or brick packs, you know, like how, how is that played in the strategy? And is that a good way to kind of introduce customers to products? Then they end up buying more of the, the stuff that needs more of a cooking, you know, uh, application.
Matt Maier - 00:40:34
Well, I'll tell you, our product development strategy is really survival. So I'm
Anthony Corsaro - 00:40:43
assuming there's a carcass utilization piece there as well if I had to
Matt Maier - 00:40:46
guess. Yeah, that's, that's the survival part of it is that, you know, we to financially make it, we need to sell all of the carcass, but we don't just need to sell all the carcass in its raw form. We need to sell part of that carcass in a value added form because we're always held down by the 80% of import grass fed that's in this country. We're always held down in what we can, what we can charge at retail for our products. But if we can create products that add some value for the consumer, then that allows a little more margin for us. And if we just get a little more margin, then we can survive. So, yeah, our barbecue beef has been a big hit. Um our bone broth or chili, you know, values are our jerky and sticks have been real resurgent since the pandemic.
Matt Maier - 00:41:29
Um And then, you know, other, you know, they're what's called off all products, you know, like selling all the oxtail, uh selling all the heart, selling all the liver. Um, that I tell our team all the time. You know, that may be only 100 cases of liver uh out of 5000. But that 100 cases of liver is how we make it financially. Um, you know, almost everything else is kind of really passed through. It's the value added to off all the other items that we need to sell to survive and sure it's fun to create a product and it's fun to put it on the shelf and it's fun to see it move, but it's really survival. Yeah.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:42:21
How, how has it been to, to be a part of the grass fed grass finish kind of movement for this long and see this wave of imports? I mean, what, what is your stance there? Is your stance there? That's really bad for the domestic market and like we really should stop that. I mean, I know there's the whole labeling issue that we really need to change that a lot of that gets claimed as part of the USA when it's not. I mean, what, what are your thoughts there?
Matt Maier - 00:42:43
Well, yeah, I mean, I think if everybody, ok, I'm a free market guy. All right. So I'd be fine with the imports as long as they were, they were properly labeled and the practices were properly documented and the claims were properly vetted, you know, we're vetted on all of our claims. Uh we have third party certifications to further vet. So if that was happening, I be fine with me. The challenge we have is it's uh you know, it's kind of like, you know, the dumping of steel from China into this market and killing the U US steel market. You know, we got Grass fed claimed. I'm gonna make sure you get this in the street, grass fed claimed product coming into the market. It may or may not be, I don't know.
Matt Maier - 00:43:23
Um but it's always cheaper, you know, and I don't know if that's a function of cheap land overseas where they're coming from and cheap labor or the raising practices. But it's a constant pressure that really, really is uh punitive to the domestic grass fed business. Why,
Anthony Corsaro - 00:43:56
why did USDA stop um do doing claims for grass fed? I, I know nothing about that. I know they did it at one point and they stopped. So I would love an education there actually.
Matt Maier - 00:44:05
Well, the, the what they stopped was the country of origin labeling. Yeah, because there was a lawsuit threatened by, through the World Trade Organization by Canada and Mexico of a billion dollars that, you know, it was not conducive to their businesses or their exports. And I thought, well, who cares? You know, let's just say what it is. Why do we have to be bullied into labeling the product a certain way for the benefit of your producers? Canada produces a lot of very quality beef, just label it. Canada, we
Anthony Corsaro - 00:44:45
had to do that for every commodity we brought into the produce warehouse. So that that's still required in produce. So it's like why is, why is beef for me any different?
Matt Maier - 00:44:53
Because some, well, there are certain people controlling the process. I won't say who they are. But if they get passed through uh a plant now it becomes product of USA, gets passed through a USDA plant in the US. Now it becomes product of the USA while you can figure out whose best interest is at play there to make that happen.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:45:17
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. But, but didn't the USDA also used to govern Grass Fed claims as well and not just the product of origin as well or no.
Matt Maier - 00:45:26
Uh, well, they had, they had a, it's, it's complicated and they had a marketing service arm that had a Grass Fed claim. Uh Yeah. And they did do away with that. But I don't think we can expect the government or the USDA to actually certify those claims. You know, I think the third party path is the most reliable to have an independent third party, not employed by the government making those certificate, certifying those claims. Um, you know, I would, I wouldn't trust either way, you know, uh, if it was the government making those to the USDA, nothing against the USDA, you know, they're here. They do a good job. In our processing facility. There's a lot of good people there but I just feel, uh, third party certification works, you know.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:46:30
Yeah, I agree. Um, and I wanna, I wanna pivot into processing. Right. We've talked, uh, to a lot of the folks on the meat side of Regen. Um, and we talk about whole cargo utilization and processing at a high level, but we have yet to really dive into any specific relationships there. Um And I know I, you know, I've heard people pronounce Mike's last name Lawrence Lawrence, but we'll, we'll give Mike and, and Lawrence Meats a big shout out here and I know you've had a longstanding relationship with them. So just talk about from a producer perspective, from a brand perspective, how important that processing piece is, how important that relationship and that partnership has been and just how that could be like a potential bottleneck or unlock for this whole, you know, return of grazing thing.
Matt Maier - 00:47:15
Well, the longer I'm in this business, the more I realize how fortunate we were in our beginnings, you know, that both Thousand Hills and Lawrence Meats was based in Cannon Falls, Minnesota. And, you know, they were looking at expansion and, you know, going after more niche markets for their facility and, you know, we started as a brand and we kind of grew up together. Um And, you know, that's amazing. Um as I've had to go across the country and find other processing relationships. Um I realize, you know, that they're best in class and we're very fortunate in what they offer in being a, you know, integrated solution from harvest to value added products. Um So, yeah, it's a big, it's a big deal for any brand to have that relationship or, or multiple relationships. You know, now we've grown to, especially in the value added space, but also in harvest and in processing, you know, where we're, we're working with over 15 different processors.
Matt Maier - 00:48:13
And that's part of all those products, you know, and, and um having finding the capabilities to produce those products through other processors. Um but we also really focus on decentralized um sourcing of cattle and harvest of cattle and then moving the boxes to a further processor of which we added on to our building in the pandemic because it was so hard to find, we actually took on the task of building during the pandemic and starting a processing facility. And if we wouldn't have done that, I don't know, I quite frankly don't know where we'd be, we'd probably be half the size we are now. I mean, to be honest with you because of our inability to find more capacity.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:49:14
Yeah. What take us through that decision? I mean, that sounds like an intense, an intense deal. Give us some more detail there.
Matt Maier - 00:49:22
It was intimidating. I I'll be honest about that, you know, it was an intimidating decision. Um But our guiding principle is if we get an order, we do everything we can to fill an order and we found ourselves slipping on that front and after exhaustive trials, not just visits but trials with other processors, it just became pretty obvious that we just needed to do this if we wanted to continue to grow. Um And man, we barely turned that machine on and it was going and it hasn't stopped since we've been at capacity in that facility all year this year. And, you know, like I said, it wasn't an easy decision financially. It wasn't an easy decision from a customer standpoint. It was a relatively easy decision.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:50:24
Yeah. Yeah. Wow. Good on you, man. That's, that's incredible.
Matt Maier - 00:50:29
Anthony Corsaro - 00:50:30
That's, it's a good segue into kind of the future, right? Um And I have 22 future questions for you. Um The first is, what's the future of Thousand Hills? What's coming down in the next 35, 10 years? What do you see in there in the crystal ball? You have a, you have a
Matt Maier - 00:50:52
cool sea. Don't start with that caveat. Well, thank you. Um ok, so if I take the past as a prediction of the future, what we have found works best is um low single digit growth. Um We can find the cattle at that rate and our producers increase their carrying capacity every year because what they're doing works and that's so awesome. Um So, you know, single digits a low double digit um growth controlled growth. Um And then, you know, it's really continuing to find those producers that want to take on these practices and make that decision to do that. And continuing to find the processors that want to work in this space at a very high level of quality and, you know, marry those together and then continue to innovate on the product side so that we can meet consumers' needs. I mean, it's really meeting those needs and then working upstream to make sure we have the supply chain in place.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:52:16
Not to ask you to share anything confidential, but anything on the product development side, you can share, even if it's high level things y'all are thinking about or opportunities you see just in the category.
Matt Maier - 00:52:26
Well, something interesting we added this past year was um pasture hogs. Um because we had some experience with some of our beef producers who had pasture hogs. So we came out with a barbecue pork and we came out with a beef and pork dog. Hot dog, sometimes I say dog and people don't know what I'm saying, but hot dog, um it has a lot of different meanings, dog. Um So uh we've played around with that uh with some success. Um But otherwise, you know, we, we generally don't really invent anything. We just take an existing product category and put an exceptionally clean product against it and clean ingredients and then give that as an offering to categories that already exist um
Anthony Corsaro - 00:53:24
in a in a low margin single digit growth deal. I think that's the best strategy, right? Let someone else go prove the efficacy and then just make something that, that is better, that's aligned with consumer values and, and capture, capture the market. That's beautiful. Yeah. Um 2nd, 2nd future question is more macro and then we'll finish with the final macro question just around. What do you see in the next decade for this whole grass fed grass, finished regenerative beef space in general, just what whatever kind of comes to mind on that topic for the next decade.
Matt Maier - 00:53:57
Uh You know, going back to some of what we discussed already, I think there is going to continue to be conversion of land. I don't know at what rate, but as landowners, as consumers, as people become more aware of these benefits, they're so irrefutable, they're so irrefutable and as the data becomes more and more available across more of the buckets of benefits, I think that will uh help us gain momentum um because it'll, you know, I see the industry going from this cute little niche that's kind of a secret to becoming more mainstream. And uh I believe data in each one of those buckets are going to get us there so that individually whether it's a consumer or a landowner, they can make that wise decision on how they want to steward the land.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:54:57
Mhm. And is that the outcomes data, either through the end product with a nutrient density piece or through the land with like an eov land, a market type piece. Is that how we guard against green washing? Like how concerned are you about the green washing?
Matt Maier - 00:55:10
Well, I'm concerned about green washing, but you know, if you're doing the right thing, then the truth always comes out and the and the data can help make, you know, the data communicates the truth. I see it all of the above. You know, because I think people enter this category from a lot of different angles. They enter it environmentally. You mean welfare, animal welfare, the density water cycle, carbon, you know, pollinators, wildlife birds, there's so much much there, there's so much there and the benefits that you pick your topic and there's gonna be more and more data, whether that's coming from the Audubon on birds and their bird friendly beef that we're going to be a part of this coming year. That's something new that people aren't aware of. Um But you know, or, or water infiltration and water cycle and what's going on with our aquifers and why we're emptying our aquifers by dumping it on cornfields in areas where they shouldn't be growing corn and we're gonna run out of water. You know, like there's so much that you could get passionate about in each one of these areas and data will continue to come out as as this moves forward. And I think people will wake up to these benefits and that there is a solution.
Matt Maier - 00:56:06
We don't need a whiz bang technology thing. We can just simply do some old fashioned stewarding of the land and old fashioned multis species, old fashioned manure for fertilizer, you know, uh letting diverse plants grow, even if you have some weeds without spraying neonicotinoids, not glyph to say we don't need that. We don't need that for our food system. Let's grow food, not feed or fuel, let's really grow food that we can consume in this country.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:57:00
Yeah. And that was uh that's been a jarring experience for me a few times. Um is just seeing even just an average managed grass based system with pasture livestock and probably a really well managed grain operation and the the pasture grass based system is, is having such uh a magnitude of difference, ecosystem services wise. I mean, it's not, it's not even close, right? And seeing that with your own two eyes and just saying, you know, this whole narrative around animals are totally a problem and there's no way to do them, you know, the right way and, and they're, they're, you know, they're killing the environment and all that is. So, so off base and um we can't get everyone out to the farms even though I think that's a worthy goal and we should try to do that. So it's like, how do we do that through food and that's the power that this thing has to me.
Matt Maier - 00:57:50
Yeah. I'm very fortunate. I keep my energy and enthusiasm passionate about this because I get to go on our farm every morning. I get to work on the farm every morning. I get to see the results this year. Particularly the frogs just exploded. We feel bad driving down the gravel road at night because we're dodging frogs with the vehicle. I mean, they're just hopping or
Anthony Corsaro - 00:58:14
how do the cows handle the frogs is the real question.
Matt Maier - 00:58:17
Well, they, they don't pay attention to them. You know, they, they're just everywhere they're under the, they're in the grass, they're nowhere near the water. There's just so, you know, we're in a drought and we've got frogs all over the farm because the ground cover allows them to exist without being near a pond. And, you know, I just get to see that every day. I just want everyone to know that you can see the difference with your eyes.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:58:42
Yeah. Love that. Um, well, man, let's, let's take it home. This is the perfect, the perfect segue into that. Which is the question that we ask everyone, which is block, you know, broad macro. How do we get regenerative brands at 50% market share by 2050?
Matt Maier - 00:59:03
Well, it's gonna happen 2050 you said? Right? So we got a little time. Yeah. Um, well, it's just, it's, it's across the board. People waking up to either I make this choice or it's going to be made for me in a crisis. So, do you want to wait for the crisis or do you want to be proactive and start making those choices now because it's gonna happen? You know, we cannot continue to sustain our current food system can't happen. Zero chance zero. So let's start changing it. You know, one landowner, one consumer, one retailer, one distributor at a time. Um And that, that's all how it will happen. I mean, it, it'll happen by choice or by force.
Anthony Corsaro - 01:00:03
Yeah. And I, I don't know why this triggered this in my brain. But I want to give a shout out to natural groceries because we have, we've given some shout outs to some other retailers. I know they've been a great partner of yours for many years and they've just, they've held a high bar right in our space and in the natural channel. And so they've been AAA trailblazing supporter of a lot of regenerative brands and continue to be that. And so it's, it's, it's folks like that, like you said, across the entire supply chain just making a decision that we are going to do this and we're going to make it work one way or another. Um And it feels like we have this amazing ground swell of, of people really linking arms to, to do that and use them, which is exciting.
Matt Maier - 01:00:37
Yeah. And you know, someone like natural, thank you for bringing them up. Totally support. They have been instrumental in our growth but also in exposing consumers to products and also to making, to, to standing up and putting their money where their mouth is where they aren't offering conventional beef in their stores, you know, or even what's called natural beef in their store, which still grain fed, they don't offer it, you know, and I don't know of another retailer that has had that conviction and that's the type of conviction we need if we're really going to make change. So yes, kudos to natural grocers have been a great partner. Yeah,
Anthony Corsaro - 01:01:23
it's the perfect, it's the perfect end point man. Conviction. I love that. I just appreciate you spending some time with us, man. Thank you. This was super fun and informative.
Matt Maier - 01:01:31
Hey, I really appreciate the opportunity to talk with you. Um and really, um I appreciate your work in getting this message out because, you know, so many days we just put our head down and we work and we don't really focus on the education part. So thank you for taking that on.
Anthony Corsaro - 01:01:51
Absolutely. Uh Y'all do the hard part. We do the easy part. And um you know, folks like folks like yourself that have been doing it for 20 years, like that's exactly who we want to support and help get the message out about.
Matt Maier - 01:02:03
Thank you very much. Cool.
Anthony Corsaro - 01:02:05
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