SPOKANE, Wash. -- The development of a line of certified Hereford beef at Yoke's Foods reflects the 12-store chain's larger initiative to re-invent itself in a crowded marketplace.
"We've been evolving out of a box store into a Yoke's Fresh Market format that's a higher-end concept," said Ken Chapin, Yoke's Foods' meat director. "They have coffee shops, pizza shops, and have enlarged bakeries and delis."
The seven Yoke's Fresh Market stores currently in operation are also where consumers will find Yoke's Pride, an exclusive line of certified Hereford beef introduced in 2001, after Chapin decided to seek an upgrade of the department's offerings.
"I was looking for a program that I thought would be better than what we were on," he recalled. "We were on a commodity choice program, and I just wasn't happy with what we were getting."
The retailer's decision to offer only certified Hereford beef was not without risk. One consideration was price -- the market area includes stalwart competitors like Wal-Mart, Safeway, Albertsons and Kroger-owned Fred Meyer. With that picture in mind, Chapin and the rest of Yoke's management team decided to take the idea all the way: Yoke's purchased its own herd of cattle under the guidance of the American Hereford Association, Kansas City, Mo., and Yoke's Cattle Co. opened in September 2001.
"Our whole desire was to show our community that we support local business, in this case, ranchers," Chapin told SN. "What we started doing is buying local beef from the rancher. Then we partnered with a feedlot; ours is in North Platte, Neb. They feed the cattle out, then sell them to our cattle supplier, and then we buy the cuts back."
The creation of the cattle company boosted Yoke's Foods' reputation. Chapin proudly notes that not all the certified Hereford cattle makes the grade as a cut of Yoke's beef. Today, only about 80% of the cattle raised by the retailer's cattle division under AHA guidelines lands in the meat department.
"It gave us an identity," said Chapin. "Everyone around us was selling commodity, and this was something we could hang our hat on. Yoke's Pride Certified Hereford Beef is something you can't find anywhere else."
A comprehensive marketing plan educated consumers. The retailer developed award-winning television, radio and print ads, and blitzed stores with information about the quality and consistency of certified Hereford beef.
The effort was such that the price issue became moot, according to Chapin. Prices in the Yoke's Pride line are competitive with commodity Choice cuts. What's more, during the current beef shortage, Yoke's is finding sales stronger than ever.
"It's our availability that has made a big difference because the [AHA] partnership was there," he said. "Supply is consistent and steady. We weren't buying with a bunch of other people trying to get the same commodity, so these big companies couldn't outbid us and get our beef."