May 25, 2010
“Feel better about the beef you serve your friends and family.” That’s the slogan found on the homepage of the Dakota Natural webpage, selling speciality beef cuts, made from naturally raised Limousin beef products from Bruner Limousin of Winfred, SD. Bruner Limousin, LLC is owned and operated by the John Bruner family and was established in 1973.
The Bruner family established Dakota Natural in 2000, after Bruner read the most recent National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s beef quality audit showing one in four beef eating experiences was unsatisfactory. In an effort to share their quality, home grown beef, Bruner started Dakota Natural, a business venture that has expanded the family operation and helped to educate consumers about the beef they eat.
“After hearing that 25 percent of consumers were dissatisfied with beef, I wondered why they would continue to purchase a product they were unhappy with,” said Bruner. “We didn’t have problems with eating quality at home, and I knew we had the opportunity to share our beef with others through Dakota Natural.”
Bruner admits it took a lot of trial and error to establish this new business. Dakota Natural beef was first registered in South Dakota in 2000 and later with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office. While developing the standards for their products, the Bruners conducted surveys in large Midwest cities to determine shopper priorities at the meat case. They quickly discovered that tenderness was a main concern for consumers, so Bruner worked with meat industry professionals to identify factors that influence tenderness.
“When the consumer study showed that tenderness was the biggest priority, I tried to figure out what I needed to do to serve a tender product to our customers every time,” explained Bruner. “Science shows that marbling has no direct connection to tenderness. The four factors I consider are genetics, age of the animal, the time they are fed and how long the meat is aged. By controlling all four factors, you can consistently have a quality, tender eating experience.”
In order to ensure tenderness, Dakota Natural established several control measures for those four factors. The Bruners source verify all beef in the program, control the age of the animal when harvested, monitor the feeding program of the animals, serve beef that is at least 75 percent Limousin and finally follow a unique aging program for the beef products where the meat is processed at Western Locker in Sioux Falls, SD.
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Dakota Natural can be purchased at farmers markets, restaurants, grocery stores and their website, http://www.dakotanaturalbeef.com/index.php. They are always looking for new opportunities to market their beef, and Bruner said this venture has been an excellent opportunity to connect with consumers and explain the beef production story from pasture to plate.
“Many consumers are concerned about their health, and we believe our lean product is a heart healthy option for our customers,” said Bruner. “Our beef is lean and tender and follows our quality management standards to ensure a satisfactory eating experience every time.”
The lean meat found in Limousin often gets a bad reputation because it lacks in marbling, but Bruner cited science that indicated that Limousin beef has smaller muscle fibers, creating a tender eating experience. When asked about lean beef and marbling, Bruner said it’s the meat not the fat that consumers will be able to enjoy at the dinner table.
“Marbling and fat certainly has a flavor, but it doesn’t give meat its flavor,” says Bruner. “When you grill meat, the fat melts and coats the meat, but beef has a flavor all of its own. I believe marbling has the ability to transport flavor. For example, grass-fed beef is going to taste different from corn-fed beef. It’s the management things producers do that will impact the overall flavor and tenderness of the beef.”
Bruner admitted that answering consumer questions and concerns can be a challenge, and he says his daughter, Heather (Bruner) Gessner enjoys working at the farmer’s markets and connecting with customers. He said sometimes the best approach to convincing people of the value of home-raised Limousin beef is giving them a few ribeye steaks to take home and try out. They always come back for more.
“Consumers aren’t necessarily knowledgeable about beef,” admitted Bruner. “They ask questions about preparation, safety, nutrition and recipes. Part of this business is the one-on-one communications with our customers. We have developed many farmer-consumer relationships, and they are comfortable about where their meat is coming from.”
Dakota Natural had its ups and downs as Bruner Limousin established their business. Bruner said if a producer aspires to establish something like this, it’s important to take initiative and get the ball rolling. He said it’s important to set criteria to follow to ensure consistent, quality products.
“Our target is 750-800 pound carcasses at high USDA Select or low Choice,” said Bruner. “Our average carcass is a Yield Grade 2, with a few 1 and 3 carcasses in the mix. We don’t use any antibiotics or hormone implants, not because we are opposed to them, but because it gives us an opportunity to market in a different niche.
Bruner said it takes a family effort to get the goals of the operation accomplished. While Heather works on the Dakota Natural side, son Matt feeds the cattle. At the end of the day, Bruner Limousin is working hard to make connections between producers and consumers with Dakota Natural.