Becoming a steak holder: the companies helping consumers crowdfund cows

Start-ups in America and the UK are promoting an ethical, sustainable and traceable way of buying beef.

6 September 2018
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People crowdfund to open restaurants and to launch new food products, but the latest scheme to encourage sustainable beef is to crowdfund a cow.

It started in the US in mid-2015 with a Seattle start-up called Crowd Cow and has now emerged in the UK.

So how does the concept work?

No more mystery meat

On the Crowd Cow website, an event is held every few days to sell off cows that have been assessed and approved by the company. This includes photos and videos of the animals and beef ranchers to give people an insight into what they are paying for.

Customers can then buy the exact cuts and quantity they want direct from a farm, but it’s not dispatched until enough beef has been purchased. Crowd Cow terms the selection process as cow ‘tips,’ with the sale of the entire cow making customers ‘steak holders.’ If the cow doesn’t sell, there is no charge, but most are snapped up within a couple of days.

“We believe that beef should be enjoyed like wine, with an appreciation for the varieties and a deeper knowledge of the source of the food you consume,” according to Crowd Cow’s website.

This means information like the cow’s genetics, how it was raised, and how the meat is cut and prepared is also provided to consumers.

It’s part of a growing movement to promote sustainable meat production.

“Raising high-quality beef in a sustainable way is both time-consuming and expensive. That’s why 84% of beef sold comes from industrialised processes and companies that probably don't want you to know how it reached you. Crowd Cow puts an end to mystery meat,” boasts the business.

“Crowd Cow is the only brand in the world that provides direct access to small, independent ranches with the greatest possible level of transparency available anywhere. And we’re committed to selling beef for a fair price so you can explore and enjoy the very best beef, support the ranchers who bring it to you and never overpay again.”

Raising the steaks

Over in the UK, ‘crowdbutchering’ is the ethos of Buy a Cow. It connects consumers to local, ethical farmers who rear grass-fed and free-range cattle with no hormones, chemicals or preventative antibiotics, with farms located in Somerset, Exeter and Honiton.

Like Crowd Cow, customers select a cow online and buy a share – generally around 3% – which includes standard cuts as well as minced meat products like burgers and chipolata sausages. Once the cow is 100% sold – which takes around a week – it is then transported to an artisan butcher, where the beef is matured for two weeks before the cuts are delivered direct to consumers.

The cows for sale are generally three to five years old and are given three days to get to know the butcher’s voice, behaviour and touch, as well as adjust to surroundings so slaughter takes place with as little stress as possible, according to Buy a Cow.

Processing is done lengthways from front to back, which results in approximately 30 meat boxes from one cow. Customers can also request two portions of offal or bones be added to their standard order free of charge.

“Crowdfunding, or crowdbutchering, is a new concept in meat shopping,” Buy a Cow founder Berend te Voortwis told The Evening Standard. “We don’t waste anything. We wait until the entire cow has been bought before it goes to the butcher. So unlike the supermarkets and traditional butchers, we never have to dispose of any unwanted beef. What’s more, we use the entire cow.  Everything is sold, from nose to tail. We also make sure the hide and bones are used. It’s a genuinely sustainable way to buy meat.”

Traceability is also a key selling point for Buy a Cow, which is an increasingly influential factor for consumers as Brexit looms, with a recent survey showing that 71% of people felt it was important to know where their food was produced when deciding what to buy.

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