Cathie Anderson

Crowdfunding a cow? This startup connects local beef lovers with small ranchers

Crowd Cow
Crowd Cow Screen shot

If you’ve tried but failed to go whole hog, you might want to settle for splitting a cow. The folks at Crowd Cow will let you team up with others and buy one.

This 2-year-old Seattle-based startup operates like crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, except that instead of finding backers to fund projects, these entrepreneurs find beef lovers who want to go in on a cow together and have pre-selected cuts of meat delivered to their door. Crowd Cow recently invited a fourth-generation Oregon House rancher to join their list of beef suppliers: Carrie Richards of the Richards Grassfed Beef.

“We are a grass-fed beef company, and we sell wholesale right now,” Richards said. “But we get a lot of family and friends who want to buy steaks or 10 pounds of ground beef but not an entire animal. If we sell to Crowd Cow, we could sell them the entire animal, and they would be able to cut it up into smaller portions (for customers).”

Richards is still negotiating terms with Crowd Cow, but the startup has begun deliveries in the Sacramento region from other ranchers. The Richards family bought their ranch in 1941, but longtime residents may know them best as the former owners of the Bercut-Richards cannery. Sacramento’s Richards Boulevard still bears their name. Carrie, who attended C.K. McClatchy High School, is taking over the Oregon House ranch from her father, Thomas Richards III, who is 74.

“If we sell Crowd Cow the whole animal, then we don’t have to do any of the packaging and shipping,” Richards said. “They take care of all of that for us. If we can sell an entire animal to one place it is more cost-effective for us than dividing it up into all the cuts.”

Groceries-a-go-go

For a fee of $149, Sacramento-area residents now can get unlimited grocery delivery to their homes for one year from stores that include Costco, Petco, Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, Safeway, Smart & Final and Whole Foods Market.

Instacart began offering grocery delivery locally on Thursday. The unlimited delivery service, known as Instacart Express, requires orders of $35 or more, but shoppers don’t have to subscribe to that service to get groceries delivered. Instacart will transport groceries for a fee of $5.99 per delivery, said Sid Agarwal, senior general manager for Instacart.

The company, founded in 2012 in San Francisco, already delivers in 36 other markets around the United States, Agarwal said.

“Most of our subscribers start out with individual orders,” Agarwal said, “but actually Express members account for the majority of our deliveries.”

Instacart employs shoppers who use a smartphone app to shop for customer orders, he said. The shoppers and customers can exchange messages within the app to discuss any potential changes that may be wanted or needed.

The company also collects merchant fees from the grocers that partner with it, Agarwal said, and those payments along with delivery fees are allowing the company to realize positive gross margins in all its markets except the newest ones. It can take two months to get the volume needed to generate positive returns, he said.

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee

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