Vande Rose Profile
Vande Rose Captures Markets Based on Flavor of Its Meats
Vande Rose Farms LLC was formed in 1999 from a base of three farm families: The Van Gilst, De Bruin and Rozenboom families. All are producers in Mahaska County in Iowa. They trace roots and a bond back more than 150 years, when the first-settler families were immigrants from Holland, coming to the state to farm the land and share work and lives.
Even the name of the company supports that long-standing, unique bond, using a part of each name to create Vande Rose.
From that simple family-farm history, a strong, successful, specialty meat production, processing and marketing story has blossomed. The three farms have stayed approximately the same size, and meat is still sold throughout south central Iowa. Since the 1990s, the families have defined their breeds as Duroc hogs and Hereford cattle, known for flavorful meat.
The business remains based in Oskaloosa, but Vande Rose Farms now also has a sales and marketing facility in Des Moines, Iowa, and this year added processing plants in Ackley and Wellsburg, Iowa, enabling it to bring to market its own further-processed items like bacon and ham. In 2007, it opened a retail meat store in Granite Bay in northern California, which according to Steve De Bruin, CEO of Vande Rose, is doing well.
A new entity – Source Verified Foods – has been formed to bring the processing function under the umbrella, he said.
Vande Rose produces, processes and sells meats that are:
- Source verified (primarily beef and pork)
- Breed specific (Duroc pork and Hereford beef)
Beyond that, beef is sold as natural with no preservatives, growth promotants or hormones and little vaccination; pork is natural with no preservatives, growth promotants, hormones or antibiotics; and animals are raised in environmentally controlled houses where water misters, sunlight, heaters and other humane production aspects are part of the process. The producers raise their own feed.
Business has steadily increased, even as competition has grown.
“Competition is hefty. There are a lot of producers in our field now,” said De Bruin. “We push the additional attributes of flavor, source verification and the fact that breed matters. Then we say, ‘Oh, by the way, they are all natural products.’”
It’s worked. The company has strong markets on the West Coast (Seattle to San Diego), the East Coast (Boston to Maryland), in Texas, Florida and the Atlanta area. International sales have grown as well, with product now going to Korea, Switzerland and the European Union. Vande Rose pork and beef is sold to restaurants, most of them white tablecloth variety, and to grocery retail outlets. Many of retail stores are known for specialty products.
“On the pork side, we still raise hogs internally. On the beef side, for the last eight months, we have added a partner, Greater Omaha Packing,” explained De Bruin. Each week, 1,000 pigs are available and about 600 are processed. The company ships 60,000 to 100,000 pounds of beef and 30,000 to 80,000 pounds of pork weekly. Vande Rose has added other meat items – fish lamb, chicken – at the retail store in California and on its website, www.vanderosefoods.com.
There have been challenges through the years, but marketing hasn’t been one of the bigger ones, according to De Bruin. “For the first three years, I lived on the road, making relationships and seeing things from their (customers) ends, why they wanted what products.” That effort continues to pay off for the company.
Vande Rose does the traditional table tents to advertise product in restaurants, but more often the naming of the breed of pork on menus is the idea of the restaurants themselves. “Even in Iowa towns, it’s often noted that pork comes from Vande Rose,” De Bruin added.
Very recent national attention has helped to underscore the improved taste characteristic from which Vande Rose draws its marketing strength.
“Our bacon was just voted the best bacon in the U.S. by the America’s Test Kitchen Cooks’ Illustrated,” said De Bruin. America’s Test Kitchen and Cooks’ Illustrated are notable national food publications and web resources. “We maintain recipe developers all around the country. They are there also to help develop our products.”
Customer restaurants across the country are primarily high-end. Retailers are specialty food stores, but De Bruin said another marketing strategy has been to target those that are independent stores with a broader customer base than some of the natural food store chains. H-E-B stores in Texas is an example. H-E-B has more than 300 stores mainly in Texas and Mexico. It is a family business that is more than 100 years old. Vande Rose hasn’t forgotten its local customer base. Products also are available in select Midwest and Iowa chain stores, such as Fareway.
“We are doing business in 23 states with 45 distributors and 3,500 end-users, restaurant and retail. That is quite a management challenge. We need to always provide proper customer service and be sure people have what I call ‘the right seats on the bus’ as an internal management team,” explained De Bruin.
Will the rapid growth continue?
De Bruin actually sees an intentional stabilization period in the near future. “We hope to quit growing for a year, to stabilize. We just acquired those processing facilities, which took us from 25 employees to 55 employees in the last four months. We want to maintain profitability . . . . Then we can start growing again.”
The CEO gives much credit for success to assistance through the Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program. Vande Rose received a $248,000 grant for planning in 2001 and a $300,000 operating capital grant in 2006. The first one allowed the company to get its core product line developed and to initiate West Coast marketing of fresh meats. The second provided the means to work on smoked and cured product lines. “They made a very large difference in our success, coming at critical points. We used them very carefully,” said De Bruin.
About USDA VAPG
VAPG funding has been offered by the USDA periodically since the early 2000s. A new round of funding is anticipated to be announced in the coming months. To be considered value added, projects must show how products are differentiated in specific ways from commodity crops. Typically, projects must also show how they may deliver greater returns to producers.
Independent producers, farmer or rancher cooperatives, agricultural producer groups, and producer-owned business ventures, including non-profit organizations, may apply. In previous cycles, applicants were required to be producers of the raw commodity who will maintain ownership of that commodity through the process of creating a value-added product. Grants have been available for planning projects (such as marketing and business plans and feasibility studies) and working capital projects (which might include wages or packaging supplies). (http://www.rd.usda.gov/)