June 8, 2006: Within our country, the debate
against immigration has been raging. Newscasters put the population
of people in America under less-than-legal-conditions in the
millions. Long referred to as a “melting pot,”
this nation has been a land of immigrants since it’s
founding over 200 years ago.
Throughout the years, people from every country, cultural
group and religion have come to America searching for a better
life, many of them escaping poverty, war-torn homelands, political
and religious persecution. Despite the adoption of a new language
and the nuances of day-to-day life, immigrants often hold
fast to their culinary traditions. As ethnic populations swell,
their foods are often embraced within the internationalizing
Granted, most foreign foods have been Americanized to appeal
to the masses, but in ethnic homes authenticity remains a
priority, especially for holidays and special occasions.
It’s estimated that 80 percent of the world’s
population eats goat as a staple in their diet. My marketing
plan has always been simple—if someone has a foreign
accent, chances are they eat goat meat.
||"My marketing plan has always
been simple—if someone has a foreign accent, chances
are they eat goat meat."
Sustainable farmers are finding that creating niche markets
aimed at ethic populations offers not only a steady stream
of customers, but ones who are grateful for the ability to
carry on their cultural and religious traditions that are
wrapped around food. An added positive aspect of this trend
for domestic meat goat producers is that ethnic consumers
are willing to pay more for locally grown fresh meat than
for frozen, imported meat, according to the Agriculture Utilization
Kim T. Gordon, author of Bringing
Home the Business and a marketing coach, lists the three
cardinal rules for niche marketing: Test the market, meet
your customers’ unique needs and speak in terms your
customers can understand. Regardless of whether you're marketing
goat or other products, farmers heeding Gordon’s advice
can develop a strong and devoted customer base.
Test the market
Although goat is the most consumed meat throughout the world,
the USDA only lists milk, broilers, cattle, hogs, calves,
eggs and turkeys on its agricultural commodities roster. On
the weekly auction reports, goats are often lumped in with
An estimated 500,000 goat carcasses were imported into the
U.S. in 2004 to meet rising demand for goat meat. Over the
past seven years, goat meat imports have jumped 140 percent.
Richard Machen, professor and livestock specialist at Agricultural
Research and Extension Center at Texas A & M University,
estimates there are 35 million foreign-born residents in the
United States from countries in which goat is routinely eaten.
Despite a considerable existing and potential market, developing
an ethnic niche market still presents unique challenges and
requires that farmers do their homework.
Even before you sell the first goat, start examining the
local market. The best place to begin is by attending local
livestock auctions. For example, the New Holland Livestock
Market moves the majority of goats destined for slaughter
on the East Coast—as many as 2,600 the week prior to
Easter and 1,800 during the month of Ramadan, a major Muslim
holiday. By attending an auction during peak sales, producers
can get not only a feel for the price of goats, but also the
size and quality for which buyers pay the best price. Once
you’ve actually seen which types of goats bring the
best price, it’s relatively easy to follow the market
through the USDA reports readily available online and published
by numerous agricultural weeklies.
Many people who get into meat goat production believe that
high consumer demand means they will receive a premium price
at auction—not true. The majority of goats purchased
at regional auctions do not go directly to customers, but
to middlemen and packinghouses. Often, animals exchange hands
several times before the final cut reaches the consumer, each
time adding on more profit margin to create a premium price
in the end.
Better goats support direct markets
Only in the past 10 years has the practice of raising goats
bred specifically for meat emerged. Prior to that time, goats
destined for the meat market were primarily a by-product from
goat dairies. However, the business model of raising and marketing
meat-type goats similar to dairy goats and selling them through
auction initially disappointed many early meat-goat producers.
For small- to medium-sized producers, the profit margin was
low. To increase the bottom line, meat goat producers have
turned to direct marketing and on-farm sales targeted at ethic
The demographic for my rural community in south-central Pennsylvania
is 98 percent Caucasian, mostly conservative Christians—not
exactly a haven for cultural diversity. But by taking a map
and drawing a circle representing a two-hour drive radius,
several major cities appeared. Using a telephone book and/or
the Internet, it’s not too difficult to check out the
ethnic restaurants, markets, churches and mosques. If these
places are present in your marketing radius, you have potential
customers for direct marketing and on-farm sales.
It only takes one satisfied customer to spread the word,
but as a producer you need to continually promote yourself.
The tactic that has worked the best for me has been to keep
a good supply of business cards on hand. Don’t be afraid
to talk to people you don’t know or who speak broken
English. Word-of-mouth advertising includes your own mouth.
When going out to eat at local family-owned restaurants,
introduce yourself. Several of my customers are Italian immigrants
who own pizza shops. The good news for me is that the food
they cook at home is far different from what is on their restaurant
Know your customers’ needs
The next step in ethnic marketing is to meet your customers’
needs. To do this it is imperative to educate yourself about
the groups to which you plan to sell goats. If you are going
to work with the Muslim community, it helps to understand
the basics of Islam. At first, many people from traditional
Christian backgrounds fear this step. Just remember that Christianity,
Judaism and Islam all came out of the Middle East, so many
of the traditions and stories are quite similar.
|| "It is imperative to educate
yourself about the groups to which you plan to sell goats.
If you are going to work with the Muslim community, it
helps to understand the basics of Islam."
Ramadan is well known to many non-Muslims. It is months of
fasting, meaning followers do not eat or drink between sunrise
and sunset. The fast is ended with a three-day holiday called
Id-al-Fitr, Feast of the Fast Breaking (commonly known as
Eid). This occurs when the new moon is sighted signaling the
beginning of the new month, Shawwal. This year, Eid will fall
on October 24.
Many producers with a limited knowledge of Islam often sell
all their goats for Ramadan, missing another important opportunity.
Approximately 70 days after Ramadan falls the second Eid—Id
al-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice), which represents the
Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son,
Ishmael to Allah. Muslims in India and Pakistan also refer
to this holiday as “Goat Eid” as it is traditional
to slaughter a goat and give a third of the meat to the poor.
Similar to the Semitic and Christian teachings of Abraham
to whom God sent an unblemished ram for sacrifice instead
of his son, Isaac, Muslims seek out fully intact animals with
testicles and horns for this holiday. Some even consider an
ear tag as a blemish. Weights for premium Eid goats fall in
the range of 50-80 pounds, live weight.
Similar to the Hispanic tradition of serving goat at a child’s
baptismal, Muslims also slaughter a goat to honor the birth
and naming of children.
Holy day niche issues
There are a number of advantages and disadvantages that
go with raising animals to meet this particular niche. No
disbudding, castrating and ear tagging represent obvious savings
in both time and money to the producer, but there are trade-offs.
Keeping a number of intact males for 6 to 9 months requires
better fencing, caution with aggressive behavior (leading
to possibe blemishes from broken horns and gashes) and, of
course, that fragrant musky odor.
A growing trend with direct marketing and on-farm sales to
Muslims is allowing slaughter on the premises to fulfill Halal
requirements. Halal food is defined by the laws of Islam and
is very similar to the Jewish kosher laws regarding slaughter.
For animals to be considered Halal, they must be humanely
treated prior to slaughter, have their heads turned to the
east, toward Mecca, and a prayer spoken while a very sharp
knife is used to cut the throat.
“This is so important for me to be able to do this,”
said Omar Taghe, a native Moroccan and Muslim who purchases
from a farmer who allows on-farm slaughtering.
||"Muslim families from New York
and New Jersey often drive several hours to farms for
a day of halal butchering, toting the meat home in ice
chests to fill their deep freeze for the coming year."
Allowing on-farm slaughtering is not for everyone. For producers
comfortable enough to allow the practice, access to water
and a method to hang the animal must be provided. Farmers
catering to customers who want to do their own butchering
also provide additional services such as tables, electricity
and disposal of the offal. They may also sell live chickens,
lambs and beef.
Muslim families from New York and New Jersey often drive
several hours to farms for a day of halal butchering, toting
the meat home in ice chests to fill their freezers for the
To further aid farmers wanting to allow on-farm butchering,
the Sheep & Goat Marketing Program—a joint venture
between Cornell University and the University of Maryland—sells
a poster outlining the techniques for Halal on-farm slaughter.
There are versions available in English, Arabic, Persian,
Spanish and Urdu (see "For more information"
Speak the language
To do business with ethnic populations you need to be able
to effectively get your message across as well as understand
what customers want to tell you. You don't necessarily have
to learn a second language, but you should be aware that people
for whom English is a second language may not use the words
you expect. For instance, “ram” is routinely used
to also mean male goat, what farmers in the U.S. refer to
as a “buck.”
Thick accents need to also be taken into account. “Do
you have any biddies,” is what an older farmer thought
the young Jamaican man had said to him when he called to enquire
about purchasing a goat. “No, I don’t sell chickens,
only goats,” the farmer replied. It wasn’t until
the caller made the sound of a goat did the farmer understand
and was able to make a sale.
A hurdle often faced by Muslims when requesting the ability
to slaughter on-farm is the use of the word “sacrifice.”
It’s nothing more than their religious term for slaughter,
Marketing to ethnic communities can be interesting and rewarding.
Talk to your customers and find out as much as you can about
how they prepare and cook their goat. Ask for recipes and
try them yourself. Share them with other customers.
Most importantly, be respectful of your ethnic customers’
faith and customs, even if they differ greatly from your own.
Many immigrants are in the United States to escape atrocities
that have happened in their homeland. They are extremely grateful
for the opportunities to hold on to traditions—and tastes—of
home. If you can help them make these connections in their
new land, you’re building community that will bring
rewards for everybody.