Within our country, the debate against immigration has been raging. Newscasters put the population of people in America under less-than-legal-conditions in the millions. Long referred to as a “melting pot,” this nation has been a land of immigrants since it’s founding over 200 years ago.
Throughout the years, people from every country, cultural group and religion have come to America searching for a better life, many of them escaping poverty, war-torn homelands, political and religious persecution. Despite the adoption of a new language and the nuances of day-to-day life, immigrants often hold fast to their culinary traditions. As ethnic populations swell, their foods are often embraced within the internationalizing U.S. menu.
Granted, most foreign foods have been Americanized to appeal to the masses, but in ethnic homes authenticity remains a priority, especially for holidays and special occasions.
It’s estimated that 80 percent of the world’s population eats goat as a staple in their diet. My marketing plan has always been simple—if someone has a foreign accent, chances are they eat goat meat.
Sustainable farmers are finding that creating niche markets aimed at ethic populations offers not only a steady stream of customers, but ones who are grateful for the ability to carry on their cultural and religious traditions that are wrapped around food. An added positive aspect of this trend for domestic meat goat producers is that ethnic consumers are willing to pay more for locally grown fresh meat than for frozen, imported meat, according to the Agriculture Utilization Research Institute.
Kim T. Gordon, author of Bringing Home the Business and a marketing coach, lists the three cardinal rules for niche marketing: Test the market, meet your customers’ unique needs and speak in terms your customers can understand. Regardless of whether you’re marketing goat or other products, farmers heeding Gordon’s advice can develop a strong and devoted customer base.
Test the market
Although goat is the most consumed meat throughout the world, the USDA only lists milk, broilers, cattle, hogs, calves, eggs and turkeys on its agricultural commodities roster. On the weekly auction reports, goats are often lumped in with sheep.
An estimated 500,000 goat carcasses were imported into the U.S. in 2004 to meet rising demand for goat meat. Over the past seven years, goat meat imports have jumped 140 percent. Richard Machen, professor and livestock specialist at Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Texas A & M University, estimates there are 35 million foreign-born residents in the United States from countries in which goat is routinely eaten.
Despite a considerable existing and potential market, developing an ethnic niche market still presents unique challenges and requires that farmers do their homework.
Even before you sell the first goat, start examining the local market. The best place to begin is by attending local livestock auctions. For example, the New Holland Livestock Market moves the majority of goats destined for slaughter on the East Coast—as many as 2,600 the week prior to Easter and 1,800 during the month of Ramadan, a major Muslim holiday. By attending an auction during peak sales, producers can get not only a feel for the price of goats, but also the size and quality for which buyers pay the best price. Once you’ve actually seen which types of goats bring the best price, it’s relatively easy to follow the market through the USDA reports readily available online and published by numerous agricultural weeklies.
Many people who get into meat goat production believe that high consumer demand means they will receive a premium price at auction—not true. The majority of goats purchased at regional auctions do not go directly to customers, but to middlemen and packinghouses. Often, animals exchange hands several times before the final cut reaches the consumer, each time adding on more profit margin to create a premium price in the end.
Better goats support direct markets
Only in the past 10 years has the practice of raising goats bred specifically for meat emerged. Prior to that time, goats destined for the meat market were primarily a by-product from goat dairies. However, the business model of raising and marketing meat-type goats similar to dairy goats and selling them through auction initially disappointed many early meat-goat producers. For small- to medium-sized producers, the profit margin was low. To increase the bottom line, meat goat producers have turned to direct marketing and on-farm sales targeted at ethic populations.
The demographic for my rural community in south-central Pennsylvania is 98 percent Caucasian, mostly conservative Christians—not exactly a haven for cultural diversity. But by taking a map and drawing a circle representing a two-hour drive radius, several major cities appeared. Using a telephone book and/or the Internet, it’s not too difficult to check out the ethnic restaurants, markets, churches and mosques. If these places are present in your marketing radius, you have potential customers for direct marketing and on-farm sales.
It only takes one satisfied customer to spread the word, but as a producer you need to continually promote yourself. The tactic that has worked the best for me has been to keep a good supply of business cards on hand. Don’t be afraid to talk to people you don’t know or who speak broken English. Word-of-mouth advertising includes your own mouth.
When going out to eat at local family-owned restaurants, introduce yourself. Several of my customers are Italian immigrants who own pizza shops. The good news for me is that the food they cook at home is far different from what is on their restaurant menus.
Know your customers’ needs
The next step in ethnic marketing is to meet your customers’ needs. To do this it is imperative to educate yourself about the groups to which you plan to sell goats. If you are going to work with the Muslim community, it helps to understand the basics of Islam. At first, many people from traditional Christian backgrounds fear this step. Just remember that Christianity, Judaism and Islam all came out of the Middle East, so many of the traditions and stories are quite similar.
Ramadan is well known to many non-Muslims. It is months of fasting, meaning followers do not eat or drink between sunrise and sunset. The fast is ended with a three-day holiday called Id-al-Fitr, Feast of the Fast Breaking (commonly known as Eid). This occurs when the new moon is sighted signaling the beginning of the new month, Shawwal. This year, Eid will fall on October 24.
Many producers with a limited knowledge of Islam often sell all their goats for Ramadan, missing another important opportunity. Approximately 70 days after Ramadan falls the second Eid—Id al-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice), which represents the Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael to Allah. Muslims in India and Pakistan also refer to this holiday as “Goat Eid” as it is traditional to slaughter a goat and give a third of the meat to the poor.
Similar to the Semitic and Christian teachings of Abraham to whom God sent an unblemished ram for sacrifice instead of his son, Isaac, Muslims seek out fully intact animals with testicles and horns for this holiday. Some even consider an ear tag as a blemish. Weights for premium Eid goats fall in the range of 50-80 pounds, live weight.
Similar to the Hispanic tradition of serving goat at a child’s baptismal, Muslims also slaughter a goat to honor the birth and naming of children.
Holy day niche issues
There are a number of advantages and disadvantages that go with raising animals to meet this particular niche. No disbudding, castrating and ear tagging represent obvious savings in both time and money to the producer, but there are trade-offs. Keeping a number of intact males for 6 to 9 months requires better fencing, caution with aggressive behavior (leading to possibe blemishes from broken horns and gashes) and, of course, that fragrant musky odor.
A growing trend with direct marketing and on-farm sales to Muslims is allowing slaughter on the premises to fulfill Halal requirements. Halal food is defined by the laws of Islam and is very similar to the Jewish kosher laws regarding slaughter. For animals to be considered Halal, they must be humanely treated prior to slaughter, have their heads turned to the east, toward Mecca, and a prayer spoken while a very sharp knife is used to cut the throat.
“This is so important for me to be able to do this,” said Omar Taghe, a native Moroccan and Muslim who purchases from a farmer who allows on-farm slaughtering.
Allowing on-farm slaughtering is not for everyone. For producers comfortable enough to allow the practice, access to water and a method to hang the animal must be provided. Farmers catering to customers who want to do their own butchering also provide additional services such as tables, electricity and disposal of the offal. They may also sell live chickens, lambs and beef.
Muslim families from New York and New Jersey often drive several hours to farms for a day of halal butchering, toting the meat home in ice chests to fill their freezers for the coming year.
To further aid farmers wanting to allow on-farm butchering, the Sheep & Goat Marketing Program—a joint venture between Cornell University and the University of Maryland—sells a poster outlining the techniques for Halal on-farm slaughter. There are versions available in English, Arabic, Persian, Spanish and Urdu (see “For more information” sidebar).
Speak the language
To do business with ethnic populations you need to be able to effectively get your message across as well as understand what customers want to tell you. You don’t necessarily have to learn a second language, but you should be aware that people for whom English is a second language may not use the words you expect. For instance, “ram” is routinely used to also mean male goat, what farmers in the U.S. refer to as a “buck.”
Thick accents need to also be taken into account. “Do you have any biddies,” is what an older farmer thought the young Jamaican man had said to him when he called to enquire about purchasing a goat. “No, I don’t sell chickens, only goats,” the farmer replied. It wasn’t until the caller made the sound of a goat did the farmer understand and was able to make a sale.
A hurdle often faced by Muslims when requesting the ability to slaughter on-farm is the use of the word “sacrifice.” It’s nothing more than their religious term for slaughter, period.
Marketing to ethnic communities can be interesting and rewarding. Talk to your customers and find out as much as you can about how they prepare and cook their goat. Ask for recipes and try them yourself. Share them with other customers.Most importantly, be respectful of your ethnic customers’ faith and customs, even if they differ greatly from your own. Many immigrants are in the United States to escape atrocities that have happened in their homeland. They are extremely grateful for the opportunities to hold on to traditions—and tastes—of home. If you can help them make these connections in their new land, you’re building community that will bring rewards for everybody.
Here is a rundown of holidays on which goat is traditionally consumed and the type of goats customers look for.
• Roman and Greek Christian holidays are a week apart (date varies in spring)
• Fleshy kids between 20 and 50 pounds
• Greeks prefer kids slightly larger and fat
• Jewish holiday (date varies in spring)
• 25 to 50 pounds
• Milk-fed and fat
• Jewish holiday (date varies in fall)
• 50 to 100 pounds
Cinco de Mayo
• Mexican Independence Day (May 5)
• 18 to 40 pounds live weight
• Milk-fed kid
• Goat is also served at baptismal dinners year-round
Navadurgara (also called Navratra Dashara or Dassai)
• Hindu holiday honoring the goddess Durga (date varies in fall)
• Male goats only
• Size depends on the number of people being fed
Id al-Fitr (Feast of the Fast Breaking signaling the end of Ramadan)
• Month-long fast practiced by Muslims (date varies according Islamic calendar and the new moon)
• Male goats
• 50 to 80 pounds live weight
Id al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice)
• Muslim holiday follows Id al-Fitr by 70 days
• Unblemished, fully intact male goats
• 60 to 100 pounds live weight
• Numerous ethnic groups
• 20 to 45 pounds live weight
• Milk-fed kid
Chinese New Year
• Occurs according to the Chinese calendar, usually in either January or February
• 60 to 80 pounds live weight
• Several Caribbean holidays occur during the month of August
• Large, smelly bucks preferred
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 lb boneless goat meat, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 lb potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1-1/2 lb chopped fresh tomatoes
4 oz golden raisins
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
10 fl.oz. goat or vegetable stock
8 oz spinach
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
2. Heat the oil in a large casserole, add the onions and garlic and sauté until softened.
3. Add the goat and brown on all sides.
4. Add the spices, mix well and cook for 1 minute.
5. Add the potatoes, raisins, thyme, vinegar and tomatoes. Season well and add stock.
6. Bring to a boil, mixing well then cover. Transfer to the oven and cook for at least 1-1/4 hours.
7. When the potatoes and meat are very tender, add the spinach. Mix well until the spinach has just wilted and serve immediately.
Sandra Kay Miller is a freelance writer based in Newburg, Pennsylvania. She owns Painted Hand Farm where she raises meat goats, pastured heritage turkeys and organic vegetables with her family.