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Author Sarah Kirton
Sarah Kirton
Created on Nov 22nd, 2022
Fact checked by Emma Vince

Crowd Cow 2023: Beyond The Label

Founded in 2015 by Ethan Lowry and Joe Heitzeberg, Crowd Cow is a subscription-based meat and seafood delivery service located in Seattle, Washington. Here, we chat with Joe to learn more about this thriving business.

Crowd Cow is the marketplace for high-quality beef, pork, chicken, seafood, and craft meats from farms and ranches around the world. They only work with farms they know personally because they believe that when you know where and how your meat was raised, you're able to make better decisions for yourself, your family and your health.

How did the idea of Crowd Cow come about?

As consumers, Ethan and I wanted better choices and more transparency when it came to meat products. Meat is central to our plate, our health, and the environment in terms of how it’s produced.

When you go to the grocery store to buy meat, none of these issues are addressed. There’s a limited selection and there are tons of unanswered questions around carbon footprint, animal welfare, and the impact on the environment, let alone flavor and taste.

The labels are vague, and, for the most part, only mention what type of meat the packet contains, and the price per pound. It’s intimidating to ask further questions and no one seems to have the answers anyway. On the other hand, when you speak to farmers, they have the answers to all those questions and more. We wanted to bring that transparent experience of the connection to the origin of the meat in an online context, delivered conveniently to your door.

Pasture-raised chicken, craft beef, heritage pork… what do these terms actually mean?

When we talk of “beef,” it can be compared to the word “beer.” It’s simply not enough to cover the whole spectrum. You have to know and understand how the animal was raised, what the animal ate, what breed it is, and more. It’s important to hold all this information, especially if you have children, in order to demonstrate a connection to the food we eat.

We try to make this information available to our customers as much as we possibly can. So, for example, our Heritage Pork is a slower-growing breed with a juicier, tastier end meat result. Heritage breeds are typically not raised for the mass market because they’re not as economical to raise. They’ve been replaced by other fast-growing breeds. We sell heritage because it tastes better and is healthier for both us and the planet. 

“Pasture-raised” means meat that is not a commodity. In our case, it’s chicken or cattle that have been raised outdoors for their entire lives, or most of.

We realize that labels can be confusing, so we try to keep it simple. We always supply a click-and-read option for our customers, providing all the information. We also use Instagram and videos to show what is meant by the products we sell.

Is there a difference between pasture-raised chicken and free-range, and can we always believe what the label says?

We have two providers that label themselves “pasture-raised” but both use very different methods. They both have amazing products and are incredible when it comes to animal welfare and environmental impact. Again, videos and blog posts show how these two providers operate. 

“Free-range” is a little dubious and generally still means large, densely populated hen houses where the chickens rarely see the light of day. I think it’s important to know what these phrases mean in order to understand and be able to taste the difference. 

Something that’s often not discussed is what the animals are actually eating. Commodity (and often free-range) chickens are not likely to be fed a nutritious diet as the business is run on a price-per-pound basis. 

How does your pricing work? 

We’re explicitly competitive with Whole Foods in many categories, and we practice competitive pricing. We also have a premium range of products, and our assortment is incredible. For example, we have 30 different kinds of seafood, whereas some of our competitors only offer 30 products in total. 

We started off with a premium range but now we target a larger market, and our products are now accessible to the middle and upper-middle income brackets. 

What’s your take on fish farming, and just how sustainable is “sustainably sourced” seafood?

One of the terms that’s particularly confusing is “wild-caught” seafood or “farm-raised” seafood. There’s a lot of misinformation when it comes to this. 

Wild-caught can still be overcaught, which leads to extinction, or wild-caught can be done in a responsible way, so it’s important to make the critical distinction between the two. Using the term “100% wild-caught” is irresponsible. More importantly, there’s simply not enough fish in the ocean to satisfy demand. Therefore we do have farm-raised seafood, and again, this can be done responsibly or irresponsibly.  

We only do ASC-certified fish farming, which is the highest level of certification. An example would be the incredible Idaho Trout that we sell. It’s farm-raised but not in the ocean. We’re currently working on a video to demonstrate this unbelievable and sustainable technique.

How do you see the future of meat-eating on a large scale?

I believe that people should eat less meat, but eat better meat. Not all meats are equal; how they’re raised and where they come from has a tremendous impact on the planet, and the same goes for plant-based meat alternatives. 

You must follow the supply chain and consider how the source ingredients are produced, the carbon footprint, and the impact on the affected communities. We must all demand better transparency and better choices when it comes to the food we eat.

What are your criteria when choosing a farmer, ranch, or fishery to work with?

We consider many factors, including the quality and taste of the meat. We meet the people involved and try to understand their motives, mission, and approach. We learn about and document their certifications, and finally, make all of this information available to customers to empower them to make better purchases. 

On top of this, we fully carbon offset 100% of the products we sell, including the raising of the animals all the way to the delivery of the meats to the customer's door.

What is Japanese A5 Wagyu, and is it really worth the cost?

The word "wagyu" literally means "Japanese Cow." In Japan, there are four native breeds of cattle. One of these, the Kuroge-Washu, is special in that it has a genetic predisposition to produce a fine-grained, intramuscular fat with higher levels of oleic and glutamic acid (much more than any other kind of beef) which results in a lower melting point – and a softer mouthfeel and an umami taste profile. 
When purebred and professionally rated in Japan, it may achieve an A5 score, which indicates the highest quality of marbling. At that level, it’s a delicacy and a very premium product. A5 wagyu is as much an experience as it is a meal. 
Kobe Beef is a brand of A4 and A5 wagyu raised in Hyōgo Prefecture, and has its own tight controls and rating system to qualify. Crowd Cow is a member of that official organization.

Tell us more about marbling?

Have you ever heard the expression, "fat is flavor?" Marbling is dispersed fat and is prized in meat because it makes it more tender and delicious. Most cattle are raised on pasture and eat grass for much of their life, however, some farms supplement this grass with corn and other high-calorie grains in order to produce more highly-marbled meat, and thus a more desirable steak. 

"Grass-fed, grass-finished" refers to cattle that have been fed only grass their entire lives. These tend to be much leaner and also tend to have an earthy taste. We sell both kinds and we make it clear which is which, so consumers are empowered to choose the one that suits their diets.

How often do you recommend eating meat to maintain a healthy lifestyle?

Meat is a natural source of protein, essential fatty acids, and other nutrients that your body needs. The diet and exercise that any individual needs to maintain a healthy lifestyle depends on age, metabolism, and other factors, so I can't recommend any specific plan. 

What’s your favorite cut of meat?

I’ve always loved ribeye steak. However, lately, I've been eating a lot of kampachi (a buttery fish that’s great on the grill) and trout (which I eat for lunch at least twice a week.) These are all easy to cook, very satisfying to eat, nutritious, and I never get bored of the flavor.

What does the future hold for Crowd Cow? 

Today, we offer the widest selection of meats and types of meat of any online seller, with the greatest transparency back to the source and the methods. 

We have a subscription option that provides free shipping, discounts, and access to member-only seasonal items, but we also allow anyone to place an a la carte order without a subscription. We intend to continue to grow and get the word out to online shoppers in the USA and to be the best choice for every home-cooked meal.

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