(MEATPOULTRY.com, December 10, 2008)
by Bryan Salvage

SAN FRANCISCO – The California Beef Cattle Improvement Association named 153,000-acre Hearst Ranch 2008 Commercial Producer of the Year. It is one of the largest cattle-ranching operations on the California coast and is the nation’s largest single-source supplier of free-range, all-natural, grass-fed beef.

Progressive beef-cattle breeders who use practical, scientifically accepted selection and management methods and integrate them into successful ranching operations are recognized by the C.B.C.I.A. award.

“We are honored to be recognized by the C.B.C.I.A.,” said Stephen Hearst, vice president and general manager of the Sunical Land and Livestock division of Hearst Corporation. “Hearst Ranch, which my great, great grandfather George Hearst began in 1865, remains committed to sustainable agriculture, social and environmental responsibility and humane animal treatment.”

Survival in today’s beef industry demands innovation, progressive thinking, a keen understanding of the market place and a strong customer orientation, said Terry R. Jochim, C.B.C.I.A. executive director. “Hearst Ranch excels in all of these factors and more importantly applies them to all facets of the Hearst Ranch beef operation and land management practices,” he added.

Hearst Ranch is made up of San Simeon Ranch, 80,000 acres in San Simeon, Calif. surrounding Hearst Castle — built by William Randolph Hearst — that maintains a 1,000-head base cowherd — and the 73,000-acre Jack Ranch, 60 miles east of San Simeon in Cholame, Calif., which maintains a base cowherd of 2,500 head. The cattle are Hereford, Angus and Shorthorn breeds and are 100% grass-fed, free-range and hormone- and antibiotic-free. It is certified by Humane Farm Animal Care and Food Alliance and is a member of the American Grassfed Association.

Hearst Ranch uses one packing house in Merced, Calif. to create a variety of its own branded natural-beef products. And the company also sells calves, Brian Kenny, division manager for Hearst Ranch Beef, San Francisco, told MEATPOULTRY.COM.

“We sell our beef products in several ways,” he added. “We sell gift boxes, which include grass-fed beef, on the Internet through www.hearstranch.com. We also sell through the Web site and catalog of Williams-Sonoma. Finally, we have a fresh program that’s limited primarily to the central coast within 150 miles around the ranches. We run through a local distributor in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

“We also have a foodservice program, where we sell I.Q.F. burgers and hot dogs. Aramark is our major client there, pretty much just in California. Hearst Ranch Beef is our brand,” Mr. Kenny said.

When asked if he expects the current economic downturn to affect sales of natural beef, Mr. Kenny answered, “I expect it to impact sales of any specialty product. People are making more cognizant choices about food. Whereas they might have purchased a $100 bottle of wine in the past, I’ve noticed people are more receptive now to value. There has also been a change since the higher fuel prices this summer to where people seem to be thinking more about where food is coming from and what they’re buying.”

Mr. Kenny’s “gut feeling” is the economic downturn is going to clearly change the way people eat. “We eat an awful lot of beef in the U.S.” he adds. “If anything, people might buy more bottom round, cube it and make a stew before they’ll buy New York steaks.”

Despite the current economic downturn, Mr. Kenny remains optimistic the natural-beef segment will continue increasing “There’s going to be a growing desire for consumers to buy natural products,” he added. “There’s a lot of room for growth in this segment, too.”