The food industry has long been focused on efficiency, prioritizing quick and cost-effective methods to feed a growing population. While this approach led to significant advancements, such as refrigerated shipping, there were drawbacks that consumers are now reconsidering. The use of hormones and antibiotics in the raising of beef cattle has come under scrutiny, with concerns about the impact on the quality of the final product.
In response to these concerns, Painted Hills Natural Beef was established in Oregon in the mid-1990s. Seven ranching families joined forces to produce and sell beef that was free from extensive processing and artificial ingredients commonly found in mass-market meat. Despite limited reach and thinner profit margins, the founders believed that consumers would appreciate the difference in taste and quality.
“Our goal was to create something new,” says Will Homer, the Operations Manager of Painted Hills, whose father is one of the founders. The company specializes in natural beef, taking a different approach to raising cattle compared to conventional ranchers. Painted Hills’ cattle are not given any steroids, hormones, or antibiotics, and they are fed a 100-percent vegetarian diet of barley, corn, and alfalfa hay without any animal byproducts. Consumers are gradually realizing that cheaper is not always better and that taste and quality matter more than ever.
Breaking Through Barriers
However, convincing customers to choose Painted Hills’ products was not without its challenges. Homer recalls how his father and partners had to work tirelessly to persuade local grocers to carry natural beef. “He drove the wheels off of two cars showing off the product,” Homer explains.
Initially, the plan was to sell carcass beef in the community of Bend, Oregon. However, the company struggled to make ends meet. Recognizing the demand for packaged beef, they made a shift in their approach. It was a difficult time for Painted Hills, with financial difficulties almost pushing them to the brink. “At one point, we found ourselves $5,000 from giving up,” Homer reveals.
Fortunately, Painted Hills was able to team up with a meat packer with solid credit, and they pushed harder to turn their fortunes around. The key to success, according to Homer, was offering smaller grocers something distinctive that set them apart. Despite being a higher-cost item, Painted Hills managed to convince these grocers to carry their products by cooking and allowing them to taste it for themselves.
“In the beef world, the motto is that beef is beef and cheaper is better, and it’s hard to move past that,” Homer acknowledges.
Working Towards a Bright Future
Painted Hills has now successfully established itself as a provider of natural beef, with customers spanning from the San Francisco Bay Area to the Canadian border. The company faces competition from both traditional beef producers and other natural beef companies. However, being rancher-owned and operated gives Painted Hills a unique advantage. The company also ensures consistency by sourcing all its cattle from the same feed yards, refusing to accept randomly fed cattle.
Looking ahead, cost remains the biggest challenge for Painted Hills’ continued success. However, Homer is confident that the growing public appreciation for natural meat will help them weather any obstacles. “Cost will affect our ability to continue producing this stuff, but demand will pull through. I have faith in demand,” he asserts.
Painted Hills is dedicated to expanding its retail presence in the coming years and is actively working on garnering national publicity. Despite these aspirations, the company remains committed to its roots in Fossil, Oregon. “It’s important to be right out there with the rancher and the cowboy. I want to see that livelihood survive,” Homer affirms.
The story of Painted Hills Beef is a testament to the power of innovation and consumer demand. By providing natural beef free from hormones, antibiotics, and artificial ingredients, Painted Hills has taken a stand for taste and quality. Overcoming initial challenges, the company has gained recognition across the Northwest and is determined to continue expanding. As more people embrace the value of natural meat, Painted Hills Beef remains committed to delivering an exceptional product while preserving the authentic ranching traditions that define it.