What started out as a sustainable way to craft both leather apparel and accessories, as well as beef jerky, has turned into a cured meat enterprise for Saskatoon’s Chelsey Parker.
Similar to how sustainability minded chefs use all parts of the animal – or plant – at their restaurants, Ms. Parker’s idea for launching her original business, Meat Chops Leather Shop, in 2015 was rooted in respecting the animal for both its hide and meat. With an understanding of regenerative agriculture, she specifically placed her sight on grass-finished beef.
“I wanted to bring more attention to the grass-finished beef and what it does to us as an ecological service,” she explains. “If you are going to be nourishing yourself with something, you need to know about this offering and why it is different.”
Her desire to work exclusively with beef farmers who focused on rotational grazing and grass-finishing set her apart from the pack when it came to beef-jerky producers small and large. Now known as Meat Chops Snacks Canada, her company has grown substantially in the past six years because of this mantra.
“It was funny because ‘grass-finished’ was a new concept to many, but it’s actually the oldest concept when you consider how animals like bison and elk have roamed for centuries,” she says.
The term “grass-fed” refers to any animal that has spent its life naturally grazing on pastures. It’s also associated with farms that generally practise rotational grazing, which is one of the most sustainable forms of animal agriculture.
Ms. Parker’s products are available in 300 stores across the country as well as the popular subscription service Carnivore Club. She has expanded well beyond her original line of beef jerky, offering snack foods such as Bison Bites and Elk Sticks and, most recently, bison hot dogs for summer season.
Last year, Ms. Parker struck a deal with Alberta-based Canadian Rangeland Bison and Elk, the country’s premier producer of such meats. The business partnership has allowed her to work directly with ranchers and a highly sustainable meat supply chain to help create more approachable food items for the two proteins that some consumers may still be unfamiliar with.
She says that she had also been drawn to the company’s founder, Armin Mueller, for being a “godfather” of sustainable animal agriculture in Canada.
“Ultimately, I knew bison was the next part of my journey with Meat Chops. Having animals like these bison be dignified, allowing them to live a full life on grasslands and keeping them out of the feedlot is a story I am happy to help share.”
Rangeland’s chief executive, Dean Andres, took notice of Ms. Parker’s approach to meat marketing in 2019 and reached out to her shortly after to discuss opportunities for the two to work together. He explains that initially, Rangeland was simply meant to be a producer for Meat Chops, but once the pandemic arrived and smaller companies – such as Ms. Parker’s – faced some struggles, it accelerated their business partnership.
“Chelsey is a true believer in regenerative agriculture and her commitment to not only grass-fed beef, but also sustainably and humanely raising livestock is key to the brand message,” Mr. Andres says. “[Her] commitment to these brand attributes and her passion for marketing and branding is key to the brand’s success.”
He adds that thus far in 2021, Meat Chops has secured a substantial amount of new listings across the country with its new bison- and elk-based cured creations. As the realm of animal agriculture can be polarizing to many, Mr. Andres shares Ms. Parker’s vision that opting for protein that is raised ethically with surrounding ecosystems in mind is a choice more and more people will make.
“Bison are mother nature’s natural gift to North America. Massive bison herds not only sustained the Indigenous population for hundreds of years, but they were also responsible for managing and regenerating the grasslands in Western Canada and the U.S.,” he explains.
Ms. Parker is still in charge of the day-to-day operations of Meat Chops and the brand’s marketing, although Rangeland now owns a majority share in the business and has committed to research and development in hopes of continually releasing new ready-to-eat products.
“For the first five years, I did it all pretty much solo, bootstrapping and what not. You never know who’s watching you, right? You just keep thriving and doing what you’re called to do in life and sometimes, things can really take off,” Ms. Parker says.
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