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Beefing Up Sales

Side Dishes: Restaurants buy less; consumers buy more

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For nearly 40 years, Jim Kleptz of LaPlatte River Angus has been raising beef cattle on a piece of land in Shelburne. Although the cows began as a hobby, Kleptz got serious about the business — with the help of his sons — after retiring in 1987. He’s been selling to local restaurants, supermarkets and consumers ever since.

So when Kleptz says the market for local beef is shifting, there are decades of experience behind his pronouncement. “Since the economy has changed, our restaurant business has dropped off,” the cattleman says. Chefs aren’t simply trading filet mignon for sirloin — they’ve always bought Keptz’ cheaper cuts — they’re simply ordering less beef. “Most of the expensive cuts go to the stores, like City Market, Shelburne Supermarket and Lantman’s [IGA, in Hinesburg].”

Are restaurant diners choosing the chicken? Kleptz thinks not. He guesses that folks are simply eating out less often than they used to.

But the drop in restaurant sales has come with an unexpected bonus. Although LaPlatte doesn’t advertise that it sells sides of beef directly to customers, the phone has been ringing off the hook. “That’s been a minor part of our business,” says Kleptz. Now he’s selling “a few a month” to people “looking for alternatives.”

While it’s not quite enough to make up for the restaurant deficit — “We’re probably still down some, maybe 15 percent,” Kleptz guesses — the extra income doesn’t hurt. With any luck, the demand for big hunks of locally raised meat will continue, even as the economy improves. That could be the cloud’s silver lining for purveyors who have been struggling to keep their farms alive.

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