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 U.S. menu.
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 Research Institute.
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
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 sheep.
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
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 populations.
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
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 menus.
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 coming year.
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" sidebar).
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.