Chili Pepper Ranch

Chili Pepper Ranch, Taste and Trust Steering Sales

Sandra Yerges

With approximately ten acres of grass to mow and a busy schedule as a father and orthopedic spine surgeon, Jim Osborn was in need of a solution to keep his Tennessee property maintained. It was around 2014 when he landed on the idea of raising cattle to manage the grass at his ranch. Over the next nine years, the business grew into a 400 acre wagyu beef and retail operation known as Chili Pepper Ranch.

Having no previous experience in cattle farming, Jim relied on the advice from those around him when starting up. One word of caution he received right away was to avoid feeding his cattle onion grass as its distinct flavor makes its way into the meat cuts. This idea prompted him to look into what flavors customers enjoy and the combinations of feed that produced the favored tastes.

Jim’s research process consisted of a series of focus groups that introduced participants to a range of meats to try. Each option originated from a cow with a different mix of grains going into their feed. Unanimously, the groups gravitated toward one meat option which influenced Jim’s choice to proceed with that feed type. Since then, he has emphasized grouping his animals from the calf to the finishing stages to ensure they are accessing the best feed possible.

“That has made it to where we have a standard taste for the animals because we know that changing the feed changes the taste,” Jim shared. “It’s meant to keep the animals healthy from each stage of their life, so it helps improve animal health and reproduction.”

Along with animal health, a consistent feeding regime leads to a more tender meat with a steady fat content. Wagyu beef, stemming from the Japanese breed, is known for its distinct marbling and higher amounts of intermuscular fat. Jim noted the fat within his meat provides flavor and offers soluble vitamins and omega acids to those who consume it.

“Small, custom niche market beef producers that are local are very interesting to customers that want to know where their beef is produced,” he explained. Having a 200 foot retail store on the property connects the community to this more unique and nutrient-rich beef offering while showcasing the low-stress environment Jim provides for his animals.

The effects of this customer transparency effort is evident. Of those who visit or purchase shipments from the store, 86% of them are repeat customers who developed a trust with the brand and are willing to put in the extra money to purchase meat not found in typical grocery stores.

In 2021, when the company was awarded the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG), Jim added a few customer service positions to the retail team to assist these loyal customers. The increased labor has been beneficial to the shipping, delivering, and customer-facing needs of the business.

While retail takes up most of the sales portion of the ranch, the smaller, hospitality-driven side of the business has been another VAPG-supported focus over the past two years. By crafting a marketing message surrounding the process of raising their cattle, the company added a country club restaurant to its customer base. Recognizing that new clients open the possibility for more brand exposure, Jim hopes to work with other businesses moving forward.

Increasing the number of customers and clients also required that the production elements were in working order. As Jim explained, there is a balancing act between checking that inventory is stocked, animals are raised, and employees are paid. The grant funds were helpful for ensuring the cattle-related tasks were also prioritized by funding the purchase of finished steers and the off-site harvesting costs.

There is a 45 mile distance between Jim’s ranch and his harvesting house of choice, a common problem for farmers in the United States. Following his earliest mission of providing the best taste for customers, Jim chooses to travel to a facility that specializes in dry aging. Commuting this distance alone is costly, so being able to utilize the VAPG reimbursement option for the harvesting costs helped lessen these expenses.

Taking all of these benefits into account, the VAPG has been an important part of where Chili Pepper Ranch is today as a young business.

“It’s allowed us to invest in creating inventory and sales distribution so that we could grow the facility,” Jim expressed. “We wouldn’t be able to make it to this point without it, or at least, it would have taken us more years to get to this point if we were just doing it without the grant.”

All of the work going into this project, including the creativity within the application process and the form submitting procedure, was worthwhile for Jim as he was able to see his work come to fruition. He advises those who are interested in applying for the VAPG to connect with USDA staff members who are equipped with the answers to help with any obstacles throughout the process.

Due to the rising costs of everyday farm materials, the next few years for Chili Pepper Ranch are sure to involve more USDA grant opportunities. As with this VAPG experience, the focus will continue to be on growth for the company. Through the anticipated renovation of the ranch’s retail space and barn as well as the addition of more employees to tend to the cattle, the future funds will help push the company toward sustainability.