More than 80 percent of American chefs say that locally sourced meats is a top trend for 2015, according to the National Restaurant Association. Local sourcing tops the list of "hot trends" on American menus, besting grass-fed, free-range and low-sodium options.
A small but single-minded poultry company in Maine is making a name for itself as it fills that very need.
“For a while consumers have been speaking out of both side of their mouths. They say support your local farmer, but they also want to pay $1.99 per pound. You can’t do both,” said Tori Lee Jackson, an educator with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension who has witnessed a drop-off in the number of poultry producers pursuing “organic” and “pasture-raised” labels across the state. “Plus, some restaurants want local meat but don’t want you to be [a] … facility where you’re processing on your own farm.”
In Common Wealth Poultry – Maine’s first and only federally inspected poultry facility – the state now has a company that can process locally grown broilers more cost-effectively.
‘Buy local’ wins out
Though she insists they’re not “anti-organic,” Owner Gina Simmons says Common Wealth has found its niche: providing fresh poultry to consumers seeking locally raised products. Common Wealth’s birds are grain-fed — but not organic or “free-range.”
And that’s by design.
Eight out of 10 Maine consumers would buy local if given the option, and if it were more convenient, according to a 2014 survey by the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service.
Wilson and Simmons are maintaining strong growth in their broiler processing for retail markets, but they’re also eyeing new markets, namely institutions.
“For markets that are interested in buying local products, it’s exciting,” Jackson said, since institutions such as the University of Maine and hospitals require USDA-inspected products.
They also plan to include value-added products, such as sausage and pot pies, in the mix for 2016.
The story of how they financed a two-person operation into a major regional player in just five years is simple: They worked their way up, employed no help for the first two years, and financed their own way. “No grants for us. We did it the hard way,” Wilson says. “We lived off of credit cards.”
“It allowed us to develop our market,” Simmons says of targeting Portland-area restaurants.
To read the rest of the story in the September issue of Meatingplace in print, click here.