The e-commerce platform offers a subscription meat box service featuring products aggregated from small family farms at prices that are fair to the farmers, according to Moink.
Moink, a new online subscription meat box service, is aiming to help support small family farms who use regenerative grazing and management practices to secure a better market for their premium products.
Regenerative grazing is a buzzy term these days, and regenerative agriculture overall is having a moment. In most cases, it means using controlled grazing techniques to ensure that the livestock don’t overgraze pastures. This leads to better soil health, more wildlife habitat, and a reduced need to feed livestock with supplemental feeds like grain or hay.
“We launched Moink because we realized that small farmers face the same problem. We live in a town of 600 people and that’s not enough demand for high-quality meat to support my farm and my neighbors’ farms,” Moink co-founder Lucinda Cramsey told AFN. “So we came up with the idea of shipping this meat so that we could create a market for our hogs as well as our farmer friends.”
Farmers are often asset-rich and cash poor as production cycles prevent operators from getting the monthly payments most working people receive as salaries. Fluctuations in sales prices also leave conventional producers with little certainty around how much income to expect, too.
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For farmers raising grass-fed, pasture-raised, or other specialty products, direct marketing is often the only way to capture the premium that they deserve for spending the extra time and effort adopting different production methodologies. If these producers sell their animals through conventional channels such as the sale barn, the livestock are often lumped in with conventionally-raised animals and the producer may not have an opportunity to market them for a higher price according to their unique origin.
“When it comes to chicken, Tyson pays somewhere between four to 11 cents per pound to their contract farmers and they use the tournament system. If you do the math, there is no way to make a living wage off of that and in that system the farmer has no control over the quality of birds that he or she receives, the feed, everything,” says Cramsey.
The Tournament System
Poultry is one of the most vertically-integrated agricultural industries in the US, with only a handful of companies controlling the entire market. Poultry integrators like Tyson and Perdue contract with growers to grow the birds through a very tightly-controlled ‘tournament system.’ In this system the integrators own basically everything except the expensive and hard-to-maintain industrial houses where the birds are grown. The growers must finance the construction of these houses in order to become a grower, oftentimes to the tune of $1 million or more.
The integrator retains ownership of the birds, the feed, and any pharmaceuticals that it requires as part of the growing program. The grower that’s able to get birds to butcher weight the fastest while using the smallest amount of feed and pharmaceuticals will often receive favorable treatment when the next batch of birds is delivered. The grower who performs the worst will likely receive some type of retribution, such as having his or her shipment of new chicks delivered last, which means they receive the most stressed-out batch in the bunch. This can lead to poor performance.
As NPR pointed out in a recent investigative piece, the tournament system is designed to pit farmer against farmer for the integrator’s financial gain.
Unconventional demand increases
The demand for local food and meat products produced under different conditions and standards has skyrocketed recently, giving farmers a new marketing and distribution opportunity in lieu of conventional channels, but directly marketing meat products to a local community is a tough proposition for most small farms.
“Farming, marketing, shipping, logistics – those are all different full-time jobs. It’s really absurd to expect a farmer to also be a direct marketer, a shipper, a logistics director – especially considering the fact that with on-farm income being an average loss each year, the majority of American farmers also work an off-farm job,” Cramsey explains. “We are offering small American farmers a marketplace for their animals so they can focus on producing high-quality meat and so that the consumer has access to these products without the farmer losing money.”
Moink currently ships nationwide, with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii, but hopes to expand to those regions by the end of the year. Cramsey and the team reach out to farmers who are already using regenerative farming practices and ask if they would like to sell their products through Moink’s market.
The supply chain logistics vary for each type of meat. Sometimes Moink gets meat directly from the producer, and in other instances, it receives primal cuts of beef from a processing facility that it then breaks down into subprimal cuts for retail sale.
“It sounds simple – you put meat in a box and ship it – but in reality, it is a coordinated dance that depends on the species and where the farmer is located. We currently aggregate in Canton, Missouri, but we are moving our shipping facility to Kansas City so that we can hopefully lower shipping costs for the consumer,” Cramsey explains.
Selling premium meat products often means charging a premium price, which prices some consumers out of the market. It can also be quite costly and complicated to ship heavy and perishable frozen products across the country.
Despite the challenges, a number of companies are trying to capture the online meat subscription service ButcherBox, Carnivore Club, Farmer Girl Meats, Porter Road, Vital Box, and Primal Pastures are just a few examples offering a wide selection of meats raised using a variety of production methodologies. ButcherBox offers 100% grass-fed and finished beef, organic chicken and heritage breed pork, while Vital Box focuses on providing sustainably-caught, wild seafood.
“I don’t feel like we have any competitors because we work with a direct supply chain. We aren’t going out to find a broker or asking how we can get chicken cheaper. We are supporting a specific culture and way of farming,” Cramsey explains. “I appreciate that there are so many subscription services because it brings awareness to the concept, but labels on packages don’t tell you anything about how a farmer was treated.”
Shark Tank success
Earlier this year, Cramsy appeared on the famed startup investment show Shark Tank and secured a $400,000 investment for Moink from Jamie Siminoff, creator of the doorbell video app startup Ring, in exchange for 20% of the company.
As for venture capital funding, Cramsey hopes that she and her husband will be able to scale Moink without seeking additional outside investment. The company has a proprietary software platform that helps users customize their boxes, but the company is interested in adding new tech down the road.
“Blockchain is something we would like to do long term but right now we are just managing supply and demand, marketing, and all of those things. We still run a lean and mean operation. I was born and raised in poverty and have a bootstrapper mentality. We are scaling in a way that makes sure the business works and stays cash flow positive,” Cramsey explains. “I don’t think it’s insane to say we could scale to a $100 million company when you produce high-quality products that are doing the right thing. That leaves a great taste in peoples’ mouths.”