North Carolina’s niche meat industry, which includes products with unique qualities and/or social or credence attributes, is growing along with consumer interest in the quality of their food and the impact it has on the environment.
“We respond to the needs of farmers, processors and others whose businesses play integral roles in advancing pasture meats,” says Sarah Blacklin, director of NC Choices, which promotes the advancement of local, niche and pasture-based meat supply chains in the state. “It’s basically the supply chain of local meat that’s risen with the whole local food movement over the past 10 years, and North Carolina has been a very ripe climate – both figuratively and literally – for local meat production.”
According to the North Carolina Niche Meat Producers Survey conducted in 2013 by NC Choices and the North Carolina Growing Together project, the state’s typical niche meat producer owns 30 acres, spends about $3,500 in processing per year and sells approximately $23,000 worth of meat products annually. To help these producers grow their operations, NC Choices focuses on connecting them with necessary resources, particularly processors, ensuring their products get to market.
“We found there were all these producers raising relatively small-scale, pasture-based meats, and there were issues within the supply chain, especially with the processing sector, so NC Choices spent a lot of time working in that sector,” Blacklin says. “We basically tried to connect our processors to capital resources, so they could serve more farmers and provide better packaging, products and systems, so our farmers had a better product to sell to their customers.”
Based in Boone, Goodnight Brothers Produce Co. Inc. has found success in the state’s niche meat market with their country ham operation. The family-owned company purchases fresh hams from a selection of major suppliers, the majority of which are located in North Carolina, and the hams are then cured, aged, deboned, sliced and packaged for clients such as Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits and Hardee’s. Goodnight Brothers also partners with foodservice distributors across the southeastern U.S. and supplies country ham to retailers including Piggly Wiggly and Food City. In addition, the company has developed an all-natural product for Whole Foods, created from hogs raised on family farms in eastern North Carolina.
“We feel it’s a privilege to employ great employees, sell to loyal customers and experience the success we’ve had in this business,” says Tony Snow, sales manager for Goodnight Brothers.