Knowing a food’s origins important to shoppers

From the Enfield Weekly Press

EAST HANTS: With the recent E. coli Virus scare at the XL Meats food plant, local shoppers have been turning their attention to more home-grown products. Moxom Meats, and Withrow Meats – two local farming and meat supply companies, have since been working non-stop to keep up with the demand for their local product.

“The one thing with us, is that you’re dealing directly with the farmer,” said Bill Withrow of Withrow Meats. “You know exactly what we’ve fed the cattle; how old they are; if they’ve had any treatments – we go out of our way to not do any treatments to the cattle. We don’t do any implants; growth hormones; anti-biotics; we just try to keep them as natural as possible. We’re not organic, but we try to keep them as natural as we can.

“When you buy nationally, you don’t know where you’re meat’s coming from,” continued Withrow. “A lot of meat comes internationally – they bring it in, mix some Canadian meat into it, and call it Canadian Hamburger. You don’t know anything about it – you’re going on the assumption that it’s all good beef. It very well is good beef, but you just don’t know anything about it.”

With major suppliers such as XL Foods Inc. being based on the opposite side of the country – it removes the customer from the ability to know precisely what is going into the food they are buying off the shelf. A key part of the issues stems from the origin of the feed for the animals.

“I know what we feed our cattle,” said Withrow. “They’re on pasture – and then we have them on grass silage or hay and barley that we raise ourselves. The feed out west that they’re buying the cattle on these feedlots – you honestly don’t know what they’re being fed. This includes by-products or anything they put into the feed.
“There’s nothing probably wrong with beef out west, you just don’t know what you’re buying,” continued Withrow. “You can buy beef that’s good beef – no question about it – it’s good high-quality product.”
Another point of contention is the sanitation standards where the meat is produced – something that was exacerbated by the large E. Coli outbreak and subsequent recall from XL Foods.

“With this E. Coli thing we’ve been hearing about for the past little while, it kind of raises some questions,” said Withrow. “They have massive slaughter plants out there – they try to keep things clean, but when they get into a disaster, it’s a massive disaster. You get massive recalls of meat – and that’s supposed to be in a federal plant. They get into such high production that when they havea problem it’s already a big problem – it affects so many people right across the whole country.

“When you buy local, you deal face-to-face with the farmer,” continued Withrow. “You can come in and size the whole operation up – just by asking a few questions you can figure out what they’re being fed, and the whole bit.”
Withrow has confirmed that since the recall from XL Foods, he’s seen a massive increase in business from local customers who are becoming more involved and interested with the source and quality of their meat.
“We’ve seen quite a big increase in our hamburger sales,” said Withrow. “It’s more in the time of year, if that had’ve hit say, during barbeque season, we would’ve seen a bigger increase in our steak sales, and all of our barbeque cuts. It’s the time of the year – people aren’t barbequeing so much – but where we’ve really seen an increase is hamburger.

“We’re going through – at least double the amount of product,” continued Withrow. “We’re getting people that we’ve never seen before coming to tell us that they were worried about their meat, and what was in it. They like coming here because they can talk to me, or talk to the guys working here. I think they’re just more comfortable doing that.”  Withrow hopes that this will become a more lasting trend – with the outbreak of E. Coli and recall that the trend will stay on the upswing. Although he has admitted that he’ll be able to retain the customers with superior product quality.

“I think it’s the peace of mind that customers get in knowing where their meat comes from,” said Withrow. “It is what it is – I think they like being able to talk to us, it’s like our older clients that used to shop at butchers shops. They can do specifics cuts of meat for them, and they enjoy it – it’s not like when you go into a store, and you have to buy what’s there, because it all comes in from a box. We’re just doing our little bit out here.”
Withrows Meats came into existence as a result of the Mad Cow Disease scare in prior years – the buying and selling of livestock portion of the company evolved into meat supply, and the business took flight, much like Moxom Meats out of Shubenacadie, who also spoke with The Weekly Press about the current surge in popularity for local meat.

“We take local cows, local beef from farmers, and we buy cows,” said Jeff Moxom of Moxom Meats. “We raise a lot of our own stock – we raise all of our own pigs and lambs. We try to keep it as local as possible, because people are looking for that now.

“Ever since this outbreak out west, they want to know where their meat came from,” continued Moxom. “They want to know where it was grown, what it ate – the whole nine yards. Consumers are starting to get a little more conscious of what they really want to eat. This is a big thing – you’re dealing with people’s health. E. Coli’s a big deal.”
Much like Withrow’s, Moxom’s also reported a big spike in sales after the XL Foods scare.
“I noticed in the last three weeks – ever since the scare –our hamburger and patty orders have double,” said Moxom. “This is good for us – it’s an advantage to small plants, that’s for sure.”
Moxom also cited local feed and the ability to interact directly with customers as being the core of the reason why sales may just stay at this current trend.

“I get my feed from the island of PEI,” said Moxom. “Sometimes from the Co-Op in Milford, and our stock grows very well off of it. They do taste different – if you tasted Alberta beef, and then tasted Nova Scotia beef, it has that almost home-grown taste of something that’s been very well cared for.

“It’s not just something that’s been pushed through a slaughterhouse, and no one really cares how it came out,” continued Moxom. “Here we really do pay attention to that – we put a lot of effort into detail and quality. That’s what our business is – quality. Without that, we wouldn’t be here.”
Moxom believes that it’s the smaller scale of the operation that allows them to look closer at their process, to ensure that the final product quality is as high as it possibly could be.

“Our operation is more about paying attention to detail; making sure it all looks good – that there’s enough fat on it, and that it all comes together,” said Moxom. “Out there they just do – say – 500 hundred a day, and say that’s good enough for them. They’re missing all of these small little issues – like cleaning, and sanitizing.
“It’s coming to light now that all of these things are going to bite them in the butt,” continued Moxom. “There’s been a lot of people that call lately to ask me where I get my meat at – making sure that it’s not Alberta beef. They’re really careful about that now because not a lot of people want to eat Alberta beef around here now.”

Moxom, does disagree with the notion that the spike in sales would’ve been larger in a different season.
“I think it’s people being self-conscious of what they want to eat now,” said Moxom. “It’s all coming to a head – they want to know where everythings been grown, they want to know what it ate. There are even some people that want to know how we kill them, and make sure that we’re doing it in a humane way – which of course it is.

“I hope this does start a trend of buying locally,” said Moxom. “We’re here for the people – I think it’s not going to hinder us (the XL Beef recall). This isn’t going to go away – people are going to remember the E. Coli scare in Alberta, 20 years down the road they’re not going to forget it. I think it’s going to stay steady – the craze will eventually slow down, but overall I think it helped us, and that our business is going to be better because of it.”