Meat Chops: Passion project connects to the land

Posted on July 21, 2020

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Chelsey Parker’s journey into the value-added food industry began when she made some beef jerky in her home kitchen to take with her on a motorcycle trip. It led her to create Meat Chops, a snacking company committed to regenerative agriculture and local food production, and a passion project where Parker is committed to building a business that reflects her deepest values. 

“On that motorcycle trip, I drove through the big open prairie, seeing the land and smelling the smells. That was the inspiration to find a way to connect with the land through a business. I don’t raise cattle; instead, I raise my voice through sharing my meat mission message in the form of beef products, and by ecologically sourcing from Top Grass Cattle Company. They have been my partner supplier for two years.” 

Meat Chops is currently the only snack food in Saskatchewan that sources certified grass-fed, grass-finished beef and turns it into a federally approved product that can be exported across Canada. “Our brand statement is ‘From the land to Meat Chops brand, to in your hand.’ You are what you eat. We want our customers to enjoy sunshine that has been turned into a better-for-you snacking option that regenerates the land.” 

Meat Chops has been a “knowledge-seeking quest” that shifted Parker from a maker of beef jerky to an advocate for regenerative agriculture. She jokes about earning a four-year degree in “the school of hard knocks” in creating a food brand, gaining knowledge by sticking to it through the hard times. 

Parker experienced a few setbacks with quality assurance while working out of a certified kitchen, so she made a commitment to ramp up to federally inspected food products and the intensive testing capabilities of the Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre (Food Centre). “It was a big investment for a one-person business to work with the Food Centre. I chose to invest in the science and regulations, the staff and know-how available at the Food Centre instead of investing in a storefront. It helps me get taken seriously and have federal certification and also to maintain my own dynamism and motion in my business. Many doors have opened because of my work with the Food Centre.” 

The Food Centre helped Parker with product development, nutrition facts, and connecting her with a network of suppliers. She has also worked with the Product2Market program with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture. She says she benefited from participating in marketing events with Ag-West Bio, including the Agri-Value Training Program. She also appreciates being able to access Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership events without having to be a member. “When it comes time to become a member, I’d love to be able to take part in trade missions and share my story.” 

After Parker did an in-person pitch telling the story of getting started using the store’s beef jerky kits, Meat Chops products are now selling in 15 Peavey Mart stores. She has since made a second product for Peavey Mart. The brand can also be found in the ‘local’ section of major grocery stores, health food stores, breweries and distilleries, and Regina Co-ops. She delivers direct to 80 stores. She had just signed on to a distributor when the COVID-19 crisis hit. 

The COVID-19 crisis is also slowing Parker’s next big step: an opportunity to scale up with investors that believe in her ‘meat mission’ and are interested in both her commitment to regenerative agriculture and the high level of safety testing she has gained from working at the Food Centre. The business hangs in the balance without access to her federally inspected kitchen. 

In the meantime, Parker is happy to share what she has learned with other local food makers. “If you’re going to start a food brand, don’t expect it to turn over in a year. You have to persevere and be patient, meet more people, and eventually connect with like minds. It helps to know what opportunities and funding are available, and to know that you have to spend a lot out of pocket. Not every opportunity may be a good one for you. It’s important to align yourself with your values and your moral compass. I’ve committed to not cutting corners, and that is really hard. But I’m in it for more than profit; I’m in it for meat done the right way.” 

Coming soon, Meat Chops is excited to expand into offering a heritage bison snack line in collaboration with Canadian bison ranchers. 

She hopes one day to be able to buy and custom graze her own cattle and learn even more from the prairie land stewards who put their hearts and souls into tending and regenerating our grasslands, “for nourishment that is better for the animal, better for the land, and better for you.”

 

This article was written for AWB's 2020 annual report