Meat for Ethnic Markets

Written March 2012 by J.S. Isaacs.


The growing number of ethnic, racial and religious groups in the United States offers many opportunities for agricultural diversification. The largest ethnic populations in the nation are about 20 million people of Hispanic origin and 11 million from Asia (Population: Native and Foreign-born). More than 76 percent of the Hispanics and 42 percent of the Asians are foreign-born. Estimates of the number of Muslims in the United States range from fewer than 2 million people to as many as 7 million. More than 60 percent of these Muslims are immigrants, and their population is expected to double by 2030 because of immigration and higher birth rates, according to a Pew survey (Muslims in the United States).

Within these broadly defined populations there is even more diversity. The Hispanic population is predominately Mexican, but it also includes people from the Caribbean, Central America and South America. The Asian population, which is predominately Chinese and Indian, includes many Koreans, Vietnamese and Filipinos. (Population: Native and Foreign-born) The Muslim community is also ethnically and racially diverse, representing an estimated 77 countries (Muslims in the United States).

Many members of these groups prefer a diet typical of their country of origin. For example, many Chinese prefer pork and poultry. Most Hindus are vegetarian but some do consume meat (though it is not likely to be beef or horse). Jews who keep kosher will eat kosher beef, goat, lamb and poultry but not horse, pork or rabbit. Muslims will eat halal beef, goat, horse, lamb, rabbit and poultry and avoid pork. (Kosher and halal food are big business and  important to about a quarter of the world’s population (The Cornell Kosher and Halal Food Initiative).) Many Hispanics, especially those from the Caribbean, enjoy goat meat as do many from the Middle East, southeast Asia, north Africa and Greece. Horse meat is a delicacy in Japan, is widely consumed in francophone Canada and is popular in Belgium, France, Italy and many other European countries as well. (U.S.D.A. Promotes Horse & Goat Meat, A Million Horses).

Religious guidelines or cultural preferences often govern food choices. Because few members of these groups immigrate here to establish farming operations, U.S. livestock farmers have an opportunity to provide meat to these ethnic markets. 


Successful marketing to a specific ethnic group requires a degree of cultural competence: an understanding of and respect for their values and beliefs. This requires a deeper sense of a particular group’s tastes and biases. For example, knowing that one’s community has gained an influx of migrants from India might lead one to assume that members of the group practice Hinduism and are for the most part vegetarian. However, it may well be that the group is Sikh whose only dietary proscriptions for meat are halal and kosher. Or perhaps they are Parsis, followers of Zoroaster, for whom no food is forbidden, or Muslims who eat only halal meat (Faith and Food).

Members of some groups prefer to buy animals directly from the farm to slaughter themselves. (This may be either due to a cultural or religious preference. For example, both kosher and halal slaughter methods require that the animal’s throat be cut quickly with a sharp knife, following an approved ritual (Kosher and Halal).) Direct sales require the producer to determine customer preferences in animal size, gender and age. (Niche Marketing for Small Ruminants).

Some farms provide customers with a site for their clients to slaughter and prepare the meat. An exemption in federal laws allows on-farm slaughter of livestock for personal consumption. However, there may be additional state or local regulations that apply. Regulations require that the clients buy a living animal and that they either process the animal themselves or have it processed at a custom slaughterhouse. The farmer must not help the buyer process the animal but should make sure that it is killed humanely and that offal is properly disposed of (Producing and Selling Sheep and Goats).

It is important to know at what time of year particular foods are consumed (InterFaith Calendars). Discovering the seasonal demand for lamb, goat, horse or other meats, and knowing what size and type of livestock is desired for both feasts and regular consumption should give a clearer picture of the requirements for marketing to a specific ethnic group (Ethnic goat marketing).  For many of these markets, the animals must be raised in accordance with specific cultural guidelines that dictate not only methods of slaughter but also animal diet and treatment.

Success in direct sales requires extensive publicity or a well developed word-of-mouth network. This may best be accomplished through a multi-pronged approach.

  • Target the population through multi-language ads in metropolitan areas or university communities with large ethnic populations.
  • Post flyers at religious or cultural centers prior to holidays.
  • Advertise on radio and in newspapers that target the desired market.
  • Provide samples at the local farmers’ market. 
  • Leave business cards at butcher shops or slaughterhouses.
  • Encourage prospective customers to visit the farms where the animals are raised.
  • Offer discounts or other incentives for referral sales.
  • Get involved in the target community by attending cultural and social events.

Once a business is established, producers can often rely solely on word-of-mouth promotion among members of the community (Ethnic goat marketing, Producing and Selling Sheep and Goats, Market Opportunities for Meat Goats, Marketing Meat to Culturally Diverse).

Those uncomfortable with the conditions needed to enable direct sales—farm accessibility to unscheduled visits, willingness to segregate animals to be sold, ability to comfortably converse with prospective customers—may find it easier to market their livestock using middlemen.  Several livestock cooperatives around the country offer both auction sales and collection points for sheep and goats. There are many kosher and halal processors available as well. It is more difficult to find slaughterhouses to process horses.                                           


As of January 1, 2012, the U.S. sheep and lamb inventory  totaled 5.35 million head, down 2 percent from 2011.  The goat inventory totaled 2.86 million head, down 4 percent from 2011 (Sheep and Goats).
Domestic sheep and goat production continue a decline that began in 2002 after reaching a peak of 1.9 million head in 2001. (GIPSA).

Horses are seldom raised exclusively for meat. Yet each year, approximately 25,000 horses of U.S. origin are killed at Canadian slaughterhouses and 11,000 are sent to Mexican slaughterhouses (The U.S. Prohibition). At this time, a limited number of U.S. facilities are open for horse slaughter so horses are usually shipped out of the country for processing (4 Horse Meat, For Human Consumption: Slaughtered On Site Companies in the U.S).  While horsemeat is not in great demand, it does represent another niche that may be developed to provide ethnic groups with more choices of meat.  

Other marketing opportunities exist. There are a wide variety of fresh and frozen meats available on the Internet (Exotic Meats USA, Exotic Meat Market, Fossil Farms). Canned halal beef is also widely available online.  In 2011, both Walmart and Kroger made a commitment to carry American lamb in their grocery stores (Let's Grow Our Flock).

As standards of living and incomes increase, so does the consumption of meat. When those who immigrate to the United States attain an improved standard of living, they may choose to purchase meat that is perceived as a desirable food and enjoyed by those who can afford it. (More on Feeding).




Case Studies/Businesses