A Great Partnership: Pineland Farms Natural Meats

Erick Jensen, President of Pineland Farms Natural Beef based in Maine, describes what it’s like to work with the Whole Foods Market Meat Team.

It started as a dream. Erick Jensen, President of Pineland Farms Natural Meats opens in a new tab, wanted to replicate the success of beef cooperatives on the west coast in his home state of Maine and produce the finest natural beef in the country. To make his dream a reality, Erick approached Whole Foods Market’s Northeast Region in 2002 and, with about half a dozen small producers from northern Maine, they started supplying our stores in that area.

“Whole Foods is our longest running customer. They were one of the first companies to give us a chance and see the value in a supplier network working with local producers.” Erick continues, “They believed that cattle producers in the northeast could compete with the quality from the west and mid-western parts of the country. They have been a leader in all aspects of sustainable natural beef production. The Global Animal Partnership’s 5-Step program opens in a new tab is just the latest example of how Whole Foods leads. They never follow.”Pineland Farms works with and coordinates their group of producers to meet Whole Foods Market supply. “Producers are great at producing beef but they don’t have the time to coordinate the needs of a retailer. We wanted to help them get their superior product to the marketplace and achieve a premium for their hard work.”

Over the years the program has evolved further. “Whole Foods customers began to want to know where the beef was raised and more importantly how it was raised,” says Jensen. “There became a shift where ‘natural’ wasn’t good enough and customers wanted to support local farmers.” In 2009 Pineland expanded its offering to bring Pennsylvania- and Virginia-raised beef to our Mid-Atlantic region as well as supply our Ohio and Kentucky stores with beef from Ohio and Kentucky producers. Today nearly 80% of the beef offering in the Mid-Atlantic comes from regionally-sourced producers.More recently, Jensen worked with his producers to get them 5-Step certified for Whole Foods Market. He felt the whole process has given his producers a better tie to the Whole Foods Market consumer. “Most producers are not in touch with the needs and expectations of the customer. Once the cattle leave their farm, their job is done. What the 5-Step process has done is to teach and guide our producers on animal welfare issues that are important to the consumers. Whole Foods did an outstanding job in helping us through the process. They worked with our group to ease their anxieties of doing an audit and where shortcomings were identified they offered appropriate solutions. Our producers have completely embraced and appreciate this new direction and are proud to show off what they do every day.”

“It has been challenging to coordinate with so many smaller producers but the programs have had great rewards for them. Agriculture has its roots in the east, but, unfortunately, farming on the east coast is a dying vocation. Whole Foods believes in the rural landscape of America. They understand the partnership needed by the retailer back to the producer and the challenges each step faces. They take the time to appreciate and get to know their producers and consequently these same producers take great pride in producing the finest beef for Whole Foods. Whole Foods has also pushed our producers to become better stewards of the land and their animals. The Global Animal Partnership opens in a new tab program is a great example of this. It forced producers to reevaluate how they do things. Simply put, it is a great partnership.”Interested in great tasting beef? Want to support local eastern family farms? If you live in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic or Ohio regions check out the locally raised program in your Whole Foods Market store and ask for Pineland Farms Natural Meats. And if you’re not in those regions, no worries – we have partnerships with farmers and ranchers across the country. Just ask your store’s meat team about what’s local to you.

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