Farming Magazine - April, 2014

COLUMNS

Small Livestock: Ethnic Marketing of Sheep and Goats

Part 2: Identifying and marketing to ethnic consumers
By Sally Colby


Photo by pascalkahle/pixabay.com.

In marketing, knowing your customer is essential. When Katherine Harrison and her family decided to target the ethnic market in central Ohio, they found that taking the time to learn about their customers' religions and traditions was critical to their marketing plan.

In the 1990s, Harrison's central Ohio community changed from a traditional grain and farming area to a more suburban area. At about the same time, many African, Hispanic and Southeast Asian immigrants arrived in the area. These people were seeking lamb and goat, the traditional sources of protein they were accustomed to. As the Harrison family began to consider how to keep their farm viable, they discussed the production of value-added products and decided to tap into the opportunity that was in front of them.

"We knew the market was there," said Harrison. "We had people coming up our driveway. There were individuals from many parts of the world looking for sheep and goat farms, trying to find the product they enjoyed eating."

The Harrisons were already raising sheep and committed to developing a plan that would allow them to continue farming in a changing environment while remaining profitable.

"The niche marketing concept applies to anything you want to approach as a farm business," said Harrison. "Make sure you understand your consumer, make sure you're targeting it in the proper way, and make sure you understand any regulations that go with your business venture." Harrison noted that she met with numerous state and local entities to ensure they were compliant with all regulations.

"It's important to understand the regulations that go with legal and illegal slaughter," said Harrison. "Never put yourself in a situation where you're going to suffer a penalty because of an illegal slaughter decision." She added that in Ohio, "custom" slaughter refers to an animal that has been purchased by an individual and won't be retailed at a grocery store or restaurant. The animal is purchased to be consumed with the buyer's family and friends. The kill is done on the farm and meets the religious needs of the customer.

As Harrison met and talked with customers who were interested in purchasing lamb, she found that there were certain things in common that were very important. "First of all, they want a fresh product," she said. "I heard this over and over. We were not the cheapest option. The individuals who were coming to our farm to purchase an animal wanted it to be fresh. They decided to spend a little more to have that fresh product."

Harrison said that purchasing styles vary between countries and that some customs of ethnic consumers may seem odd. Many ethnic customers appreciate the opportunity to select their own animal. In many cultures, it's typical for a man to select the animal that will feed his family. "Having the kill done in a ritual manner is very important, whether it's kosher or halal, or whether it's a cultural tradition," said Harrison. "The ability to take home their favorite parts of the animal is also important. As Americans, we don't think of goat stomach or sheep intestines as being the most delicious parts, but keep in mind that traditions vary from culture to culture."

Customers appreciate a clean facility and animals that appear to be healthy and vigorous. Because many ethnic customers were farmers at one time, they often enjoy the farm visit as much as being able to select an animal for themselves. Harrison makes it a point to talk with her customers to find out what they are seeking and said that they are happy to engage in a conversation and tell her what they like and don't like.

Because each culture has specific requirements for ritual slaughter, it's important to understand those requirements. Harrison explained that the term halal means acceptable and applies to all aspects of a Muslim's life. The Quran mandates that an adult male Muslim, facing toward Mecca, must conduct slaughter. However, Muslims will consume kosher meat or meat that has been processed by a Christian.

Familiarize yourself with the holidays, customs and cultures of your customers, and to a reasonable extent, tailor your operation to meet those needs. Harrison explained that many holidays in the ethnic community are similar to those celebrated in the West. "For example, Ethiopian Christmas falls a few days after Western Christmas," she said. "Lent is a time of fasting for the Ethiopian community. Fasting is done by removing animal products from the diet, so during Lent, Ethiopians will not consume any animal products. Starting with Easter, they celebrate."

Most sheep and goat farmers are aware of Ramadan, but it's important to understand the significance of the holiday and other holidays surrounding Ramadan. "Ramadan is a lunar month during which the Muslim community is fasting," said Harrison. "The Muslim community, however, fasts in a much different way than the Ethiopian orthodox community." Harrison noted that because Ramadan is a lunar month, it changes every year. The Eid al-Fitr, or feast of breaking the fast, is at the end of Ramadan. Muslim families celebrate this with many parties and a lot of eating. Approximately 60 days after the Eid al-Fitr is the Eid al-Adha - the feast of sacrifice. The preferred animal for these celebrations is an intact ram lamb.

Harrison noted that Muslims in her area are from a wide range of countries, including Senegal, Mauritania, Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco. They're seeking finished lambs similar to what Americans prefer, but are very price-conscious and may prefer to purchase a cull sheep at a lower price. If you plan to market to ethnic groups, take the time to learn which ethnicities are present in your area before developing a plan.

Remember that you may often find yourself communicating with people who are new to the English language. It's critical to be patient and understanding as you establish relationships. An effort to get to know your customers, along with their traditions and customs, will go a long way in marketing fresh lamb and goat meat.

The author is a frequent contributor and freelance writer who farms and raises Great Pyrenees in south-central Pennsylvania.