Most high-end restaurants don’t get their beef from the local grocery store. Well-regarded chefs and restauranteurs build relationships with small farms and family ranchers to procure what’s known in the industry as craft beef.
Just like coffee or chocolate or wine, the smallest differences (type of grass, breed of cow, lifestyle, etc.) can make a big difference in overall taste. But you and I have never had easy access to this beef outside of hitting up a Michelin-star restaurant.
And then Crowd Cow came along.
Crowd Cow, based in Seattle, works with small family farms to let users choose their cow and their cut. Crowd Cow then ships this craft beef directly to a user’s home.
Before Crowd Cow, five or six families would have to go in together on more than 500 LBs of beef in order to be a compelling customer to these small farms. That means they need a large meat freezer, upfront cash, and all the time and resources necessary to get the product from the farm to the home.
Crowd Cow founders Joe Heitzeberg and Ethan Lowry realized the whole process would be much better for everyone if they could crowdsource 50 families, instead of four or five, to buy a cow. The company handles logistics and offers users a way to learn about the ranch, the cow, and more via the app.
Today, the company is announcing that it has closed an $8 million Series A funding led by Madrona Venture Group, with participation from Ashton Kutcher of Sound Ventures and existing investor Joe Montana of Liquid 2 Ventures.
Since launch, Seattle-based Crowd Cow has expanded to offer chicken, olive wagyu, and pork and now serves the entire contiguous United States. The company generates more than $1 million in revenue a month and revenue has grown 10x over the last year.
The greater vision is to de-commoditize beef.
The Seattle-based company isn’t the only startup to raise money in an attempt to get people to eat better beef. Earlier this month, Porter Road closed on $3.7 million to go after the market with a similar mission.
Backed by a slew of New York venture firms including Slow Ventures, Max Ventures, BoxGroup, Tribeca Venture Partners and the Collaborative Fund, Porter Road was founded by trained chefs and butchers Chris Carter and James Peisker. Originally working out of a butcher shop in Nashville, Tenn. since 2011, the two partners work with sustainable local farmers to source the best meat.
Both companies are putting a new spin on a model made famous by Omaha Steaks, the meat packer and mail order distributor founded over 100 years ago, which is now pulls in $450 million in revenue a year.
“Before Starbucks and microbrew, coffee was 50 cents and there were a handful of beers and no one really cared,” said Crow Cow’s Heitzeberg. “The reality is that beef is varied. There are 300 breeds, and there are different types of grass in these pastures, and these factors will lead to a very different taste. Beef doesn’t have to be a commodity.”
Crowd Cow plans to use the funding to continue expansion into different proteins and new markets, as well as opening new distribution centers to speed up delivery to customers.