A word on sugar

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I read all the reviews left by customers of all my flavors of BLAISTIX.  They are informative and help me plan for seasoning recipes in the future.  However, there seems to be a bit of a misunderstanding regarding the use of sugar in the production of beef snack sticks.  I hope this post will clear up some of the confusion.

First and foremost, though one can technically make a beef snack stick with no sugar, I don’t recommend it.  a 28 gr BLAISTIX has 2g of sugar.  This is not exactly breaking the carb bank and it produces a stick with much better flavor.  Furthermore, sugar is a key ingredient in what the industry and scientists call water activity.  Beyond quality ingredients and great flavor, shelf stability is paramount.  This is difficult to achieve without sugar.  The sugar (and salt) act to bind or suspend water in the finished stick, rendering that water unable to initiate spoilage.  So if you are wondering why there aren’t more sugar free sticks on the market, this is probably the biggest reason.

Secondly, the low carb/no carb movement has its basis in all the sugar that is added to foods in lieu of the fat that was removed in response to the low fat/no fat movement.  Though one could argue that the sugar in BLAISTIX (except the Sweet & Savory) and other brands is ‘hidden’, it hardly approaches the 10 to 15 to 25 gr of sugar customers can find in certain crackers, cereals and protein bars.  At the end of the day, unless you are a hardcore paleo dieter or, of course, diabetic 1 – 2 g of sugar in a snack food is de minimis.

Finally, my focus is on making the best tasting, leanest and environmentally beef snack stick on the market today.  It’s easy to meet 1 or 2 of those qualities, but all three is much harder.  Whether the reason is cost of ingredients, production or lack of effort, there is only one beef snack stick that makes the grade.  And that is BLAISTIX 100% Grassfed American Beef Snack Sticks.

Sorry for the shameless plug, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Red Herring

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I sell grassfed beef products, not red herring. So why do so many people talk about red herrings when the topic is grassfed beef?

There are rules in place as far as labeling a meat product grassfed, free range, no antibiotics, gluten-free etc. these rules for claims made on meat labels are more rigorous than any other product on the market today. However, stories about grassfed beef always turn into stories about red herring. STOP!!!

Yes, there will always be cheaters out there in every industry. But focus on the real fraud that happens routinely when it comes to all other food products. “Part of a Healthy Breakfast” (yeah, the unhealthy part), “Heart Healthy” (laughable) “May lower cholesteol” (“May” being the operative word) and the list goes on and on. You find these statements on cereal boxes, TV dinners, ice cream cartons, jams, jellies, bread, cookies, crackers and hundreds of other items. All those well-positioned ‘health claims’ are completely permitted and most tell the consumer or exactly a pack of lies, but a whole lot of nothing.

At least when we, the honest, sell beef or beef products, we just state the facts as we are only allowed to do BY LAW and leave the speculative health benefits of these facts up to you.

Look at all those labels around you at the supermarket that tell you that product A is good for you, will help you lose weight, prevent a heart attack, balance your digestive flora, recommended by dietician and on and on and on. What don’t you stop for a second and ask aloud with no one within earshot, but yourself, “Who the hell are you to tell me what is or isn’t good for me.”

The real red herrings in the food industry are all these specious health claims found on all manner of food packaging today. Not breeding and raising claims which leave the decision of those claims potential health benefits up to you to decide.

Long live the consumer. little do you know you wield all the power to control your life.

Where’s the beef? Industry at crossroads

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Where’s the beef? Industry at crossroads. Will this help or hurt the grassfed beef industry?  Hard to tell.  Prices of commodity beef are very dependent on low prices and high demand.  The shortage of cattle, of course, drives up the price reducing demand.  Grassfed beef on the other hand, is already at a premium price.  Buyers are already committed to paying more for the quality they expect from grassfed beef.  Products like BLAISTIX are cushioned from price increases by the portion of production costs that have nothing to do with the price of beef.  I’d say if commodity beef costs go up 25% from this shortage, grassfed beef costs will go up only 10% and cost of producing finished products like BLAISTIX 100% grassfed American Beef Snack Sticks will only go up perhaps 7%.  Local Pastures will do all it can to absorb this increase.  We already appreciate the sacrifice our dedicated customers make in supporting the ever growing grass fed beef industry in the United States.

Grassfed Beef Supply

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My Pennsylvania neighbors are disappointed that I no longer source grassfed beef from farmers in PA. As much as I would love to buy grassfed beef from Kookaburra Farm in York or Forks Farm up north, no one in PA has the supply I need. And frankly, I’m not talking a huge amount. Just to source 1,000lbs of grassfed beef for BLAISTIX, I would have to wait a minimum of 3 months. Most farmers operate at capacity and PA farmers are no different. However, their capacity is a lot smaller than grassfed beef farmers in Iowa and Nebraska. I could speculate why, but that would be pointless. All I know is Grass Run Farm and the other farms with whom GRF works with have the supply I need.

Coincidentally, my processing has slowly moved west as well. First, Smuckers Meats processed my beef and made my sticks. I outgrew them and had to find a stick maker in Illinois. No one in PA would make BLAISTIX to spec. They just wanted to private label their own garbage for me. Not going to happen.

In Illinois, I found a processor (stick maker) who really did a good job, but was TOTALLY unreliable. (Sorry for the caps.) So unreliable, in fact, that after 3 months of trying to get in touch with them about an order, I found out that they had leased the plant to someone else. That someone else was going to exclusively cook and smoke their own brand. Oh well.

But as luck would have it, I found Kevin at Western’s Smokehouse. In northern Missouri, Kevin is doing amazing work. He also operates at capacity like the farmers, but he is already planning expansions. I have no doubt that he will go forward with this especially if I have anything to do with it. Namely, produce 1MM sticks a year! That’s 1 million to those outside the finance community. Speaking of the finance community, time for you guys and gals to start fueling up on BLAISTIX. I plan on having millions available.

New options with BLAISTIX

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Just a little note to tell you that BLAISTIX can now be bought in an assortment of 10 packs (2 each of 5 flavors), 25 packs (5 each of 5 flavors) and, brace yourself, a survival box of 125 packs (25 each of 5 flavors.) Obviously, the more you buy the more you save. All of these 100% grassfed beef snack sticks are made to the same exacting standards that any other BLAISTIX is held to. If I add a new flavor, expect the same quality if not better. After all, I’m always improving the product. Lots of time, those improvements go unnoticed. Other times, however, you will notice that the BLAISTIX in your hand tastes even better than the last one you had. Continuous improvement is the only way to succeed in business today.

So few widely available good beef snack sticks

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Why are there so few widely available 100% grassfed American beef snack sticks? I thought everyone was clamoring for better meats, snacks and food in general. When searching for grassfed beef snack sticks or jerky, the same few players come up. Even these jerky and stick purveyors are small compared to the garbage you see in 10,000 convenience stores and other outlets across the country. Yes, you can find a small guy at your local farmers market selling a stick that, frankly, looks terrible. But few are trying to live up to the marketing standards of the big boys. It’s time we do and Local Pastures is doing just that with its BLAISTIX brand of 100% grassfed American beef snack sticks.

Ironically, this adds little to the overall cost of making a high quality beef snack stick. Marketing is dwarfed by the cost of the grassfed beef itself and the cost of making, packaging and labeling the stick. These 2 costs are what keep so many from even trying to get their product on the market in any meaningful way. I guess that’s good for Local Pastures and BLAISTIX and the few other players out there. (2 of those players have their sticks made in the same facility as BLAISTIX are made. However, all three have very different recipes and finishes to their sticks.)

Without mentioning them, I support the effort of my meaningful competition. As they say, competition is good. More wouldn’t hurt, but there is a limit. Local Pastures and my fellow ‘real’ competitors, though, really shouldn’t be marginalized in the marketplace by garbage products. These are so inferior in quality to ours that there should be different generic names to distinguish the good from the bad. I haven’t figured out what that word should be. Right now I use ’100% grassfed American Beef snack sticks’ but boy is that wordy.

One day we’ll be able to re-classify our product the way caviar is distinguished from salmon roe or champagne is distinguished from sparkling wine. Until then, however, read the fine print and remember, you usually get what you pay for. If the price sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Product Confusion

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Have you ever noticed how many choices of beef jerky and beef snack sticks are available these days?  It’s almost out of control.  They take up sections of supermarket aisles, end caps, checkout lanes, whole walls at rest stops and convenience stores, gift shops, farmers markets and so on.  Unfortunately, most is garbage.

It’s amazing how so many locations that carry jerky and beef sticks have 4 or 5 brands, but there is little to no difference between each brand.  It’s like carrying Frosted Flakes and offering it in 4 different branded boxes plus, of course, the store brand.  So few are 100% beef, or 100% grassfed beef or USDA certified organic.  Where you can find the USDA certified organic jerky is Trader Joe’s.  Unfortunately, it is terrible.  Sorry TJ’s, but you really have to work on your beef jerky and the turkey jerky.

I’ve had buyers at well-known convenience store chains tell me they don’t need another brand of beef snack stick.  Especially one that costs more than the others.  When I mention that none of the others are made with 100% grassfed beef raised in the U.S. of A. nor are they made without nitrates, nitrites msg etc, I just get a shrug.  They seem to forget that though convenience stores are seen as low-brow, people from ALL walks of life go to them, especially those that are connected to fuel pumps.

So, message to all buyers at convenience store chains and other retail stores perceived to be destinations for only those who want cheap food, you are wrong.  You are missing a huge segment of the market that stops for your gas, but doesn’t go into your store.  Except, possibly, for coffee and water.

Who’s Responsibility is it?

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I remember seat belts in my parents’ cars of my youth. My God, the last thing you wanted to do was put them on let alone dig around between the seats to find them! We had a sense that seat belts could make us safe, but my sisters and I preferred to lay around the back seat in any position other than upright with feet dangling towards the floor and back against seat back.  Better seatbelts and I suppose “click-it or ticket” laws made seatbelt use just about automatic.

I just went through an old box of stuff from my childhood that my mother painstakingly preserved for me. In amongst the obvious were 4 colored glass mini ashtrays. I laughed. They seemed like an artifact from an archaeological dig. My wife, who didn’t come from a family of smokers, didn’t even recognize them. That made me laugh, too.  Like seatbelts, laws and cultural norms and better information changed our habits.

So that gets me to mandates about food. They are a tempting tool, but used to alter our dietary habits is a mistake. First of all, smoking is clearly bad for the smoker’s health and the health of those around them. Seat belts do protect you from injury in a automobile accident. Opponents of mandates couldn’t really make the argument that this was not the case. Food, however, is much less clear cut. What we should eat to improve our health, our weight and our environment is highly debatable. People make a lot of generalizations – fast food bad, fresh vegetables good – but mandating a particular diet raises too many cultural, economic, environmental, personal and scientific questions. Even if a mandate designed to reduce obesity or discourage monoculture were enforced, no one can say for sure if the goals would, in reality, be met. Frankly, the issues are too complex. Advocacy is about as far as we as a culture should go when it comes to changing our diet.

As for the product I sell, grass fed beef raised without added antibiotics or hormones, I just state the facts on the label without making any other unsubstantiated health claims on the product or this web site. My other point of focus is quality. Convince the consumer with facts AND quality. For decades, health food advocates tried to convince others that only cereal that tasted like cardboard and wood chips was healthy. Fortunately, stores like Trader Joe’s have shown consumers and me, in particular, that healthy cereal can actually be an enjoyable experience. My focus on quality grass fed beef, I hope, forces the consumer to choose between doing the right thing or making the same Faustian bargain we, as a culture, have made with cheap beef.

Meat labeling

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Unlike just about any other food product out there, particularly processed, non meat foods, labeling for meat and meat products is strictly enforced.

Any label with a claim such as 100% grassfed, No added antibiotics, No added hormones, free range, USDA certified organic, etc must be approved by FSIS, the Federal Safety and Inspection Services of the USDA. The claims must be supported with signed and notarized documentation supplied by the farmer. These are called affidavits.

Once approved, the processor gets a copy of the approval and all the supporting documentation. The processor will never, I repeat, never stick a label on a product he makes without that documentation and also a familiarity with the supplier of the beef as well. It’s not worth it for the processor to cut corners on this or any other aspect of his business.

Some will say it’s too easy to game the system. All I’ll say to those persons is they have never worked with farmers or processors and don’t understand anything about the meat industry. In particular, the tiny portion of the meat industry where farmers and the processors who provide services produce beef (at least in the case of my product, BLAISTIX) the right way. That means beef cattle (steers, not cull cows or milking cows past their prime) fed grass on pasture and hay in barns or outside with no need for added antibiotics or added hormones. This is a far costlier endeavor than raising beef for the CAFO or feedlot system, but it creates a product some in the population demand.