Crowd Cow is a new online platform through which meat lovers can obtain 100% grass-fed beef directly from farmers. “Steak holders” sign up and buy shares in particular cuts of meat from an individual cow, which is “tipped” when all of the shares have been sold.
Crowd Cow’s “whole cow” approach uses technology to connect consumers to the concept of the whole animal and directly to farmers, responding to growing consumer demand for transparency and connection to local producers.
By disrupting the traditional supply chain structure, Crowd Cow also gives farmers more power and control in the market. Brokers and distributors, and their profit margins, are cut out of the chain. Farmers can communicate innovations and investments in pasture management directly to consumers, and the transparency of the supply chains allows them to be the direct beneficiaries of farm and process improvements -- which could encourage more environmental sustainable and animal-friendly practices.
Might platforms such as Crowd Cow start to challenge the dominance of industrial feedlot beef? Right now Crowd Cow is alone in its market, but what would happen if this model were to proliferate? Would consumers become increasingly discerning about the origins their beef, as many are about wine and coffee? Or would information overload make it tough for them to validate various claims about quality and sustainability? What would be the implications for affordability, food safety, and security?
Additionally, while consumers often perceive grass-fed beef as healthier and better for the environment, beef cattle still contribute around half of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions and use a disproportionate amount of our earth’s water and land. How might these platforms for grass-fed beef impact a transition towards a greater role for plant-based proteins in developed country diets?
Finally, with these new supply chain structures comes an increased demand for packaging, storage, and transport solutions for smaller units of fresh products -- with strict, and often conflicting, temperature requirements. How will logistics companies innovate to meet this demand? Might processes like dry-aging and pickling become increasingly commonplace?
Image credit: Wikimedia
Crowd Cow (2016)
The Guardian (March 7, 2016) A bull market? Buying shares in a cow is the latest way to get your beef.