“At Mindful Meats, we are more than just a meat company. We are using our organic food to make changes in the agricultural sector, climate change, and food security for all.”
At the Conscious Kitchen, we know that the foundation of a healthy, thriving, connected, community starts with a sustainable food system at the core. The resilience of communities is nourished by producers and growers, our “heroes of the land.”
Claire Herminjard is the founder of Mindful Meats, a local organic beef company located in Marin County, California. “I wanted to create a meat company that created access for all people to organic beef. And also to sell it to communities that don’t have that access like public schools,” Claire said.
The importance of building and maintaining connections to keep communities strong has never been clearer than during the pandemic. Business closures and safety concerns put enormous strain on Claire and so many of the farmers and ranchers that are essential to connecting people with fresh, local, organic food. She says the partnership with West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) is a dream come true!
Starting in January, Mindful Meats partnered with Conscious Kitchen and stepped into institutional purchasing for the first time, supplying organic meat to WCCUSD for their food box program during the pandemic.
Throughout this tumultuous year, one lesson that Claire has internalized is that anything can happen at any time. “At the beginning of the pandemic when COVID hit, and the shutdowns became a reality, we lost 57% of our account base in about the span of a week to two weeks,” said Claire. “No one ever expects to go through that at such a fast pace, it was really shocking. We weren’t sure if we were going to survive. Then you called, it was the Tuesday before Christmas. The largest order we’d really ever had in the past was around 4,000 pounds at any given time, which is nothing to sneeze at. But when you asked if we could deliver 13,000 pounds of beef in two weeks, I was like, ‘Do you mean 1300?’ And you were like, ‘No, I mean 13,000, and actually, I think it might be 18,000. It was completely jaw-dropping.’”
“We’d lost 57% of our accounts in numbers within a two-week period…we thought we were going to have to close our doors, or dramatically scale back, or just run our butcher shop in Oakland. We didn’t know.”
Claire explained, “We thought we were going to have to close our doors, or dramatically scale back, or just run our butcher shop in Oakland. We didn’t know.”
Because of the natural fluctuation that comes with being a small business in the fresh foods industry, Claire is used to being flexible and working in uncertain conditions. She made it through the summer with the small surge of retail businesses reopening thanks to her foresight in building up Mindful Meat’s retail channel, but the future was still insecure. So when WCCUSD confirmed the order, Claire jumped on board without hesitation, but had doubts that an order that large was really going to happen. At the time of the order, she wondered if they could pull it off.
“We were coming up between two holidays, Christmas and New Year’s, so we had to make sure we had the cattle lined up, get all the product produced. We went to our production team, we told them about this volume order and how if things go well, and we delivered, and the customer was happy, this would be a repeating thing, and everyone was so excited. It’s kind of what everyone had been waiting for. “
Claire also said that the partnership with Conscious Kitchen and WCCUSD program provided great stability in uncertain times. “It was a total god send for us, in so many ways. It’s really helped to keep our company stable and to keep our employees’ jobs stable as we were navigating all of the challenges with COVID.”
This stability that these orders have given to Mindful Meats is more than a short-term result: it has also allowed Mindful Meats to have the means and confidence to make investments in growing their business and processing capacity. The business recently purchased two new meat processing machines, and said Claire said she is “feeling really confident in being able to invest in this kind of equipment that’s going to move us into a whole new market segment”
“The partnership with the West Contra Costa program was a total god send for us, in so many ways. It’s really helped to keep our company stable and to keep our employees’ jobs stable as we were navigating all of the challenges with COVID.”
“Public schools touch so many families, and to be able to shift a supply chain ultimately comes down to the drive and the motivation of the food service director. If you don’t have their buy-in, passion, belief and willingness to do the hard work it’s never going to happen. I am so pleased there are food service directors like Barbara out there,” Claire said.
Happiness for Claire is, “keeping all of our staff fully employed” and “maintaining a meat company that actually increases access for all people to organic beef.” Conscious Kitchen stands with Claire on her mission to provide products which are better for us and for our Earth.
Judi Shils, Founder of Conscious Kitchen, interviewed Claire to see what keeps her going through uncertainty and what the impact of processing district-level purchases has been on her company.