Farmer Perspective: Wisconsin Family Dairy Diversifies with Direct-to-Consumer Beef Business
Scholze Family Farms is a third-generation dairy in central Wisconsin. Will Scholze and his brother, Theo, purchased the farm from their parents in 2012 and began expanding the operation shortly after. Today, the farm holds 500 dairy cows, 1,800 acres of cropland, a beef cattle operation, and a new direct-to-consumer beef business, Scholze Family Beef.
From left are Will and Becky Scholze and their son Liam, followed by Theo Scholze, his wife Sarah, and their children, Zoie and Owen.
Realizing they could boost profits by going straight to the consumer, the Scholze brothers started selling their beef at local farmers’ markets. Now, they’re working to expand their business through online sales. It hasn’t come without challenges, but it’s a venture that made good business sense for this family farm.
Below, we asked Will Scholze a few questions about his family’s new endeavor:
How did your family get started in the beef business?
We began selling our beef directly to consumers in January this year (2018), however, we started our beef cattle operation three years ago. We were working on transitioning our dairy herd to Jersey cows and realized we could cross them with Limousin bulls to make high-quality beef cattle. Then, we decided to start selling our beef products directly to consumers. The synergies just made sense.
Scholze Family Beef set up at local food events to promote their beef.
Why did this new business venture make sense for your farm?
There were a lot of reasons, but we realized we could increase our profits by selling our beef directly to the consumer, rather than selling live cattle at a sale barn. We also saw Scholze Family Beef as an opportunity to diversify. We’re not big enough to be a big dairy and likewise on the crop side, so we needed something to set us apart. It was also a great opportunity to get the whole family involved. My wife has helped with the website and packaging design and continues to help bring in new customers.
Do you manage every channel of beef production?
We breed, raise and feed the cattle. Then, we work with a local butcher who handles the processing at a USDA-inspected site. We handle all of the marketing, selling, packaging and distribution as well.
What type of beef products do you sell through Scholze Family Beef?
We sell pasture-raised beef. Online we offer six different beef packages, from a family-friendly box to a box of just steaks. We ship our beef with dry ice and use corn-based insulation. Locally, we sell all cuts of beef. In fact, making sure we’re able to sell every part of the animal has been one of the more challenging aspects of the business, but necessary for a healthy bottom line.
Scholze Family Beef on their renovated heifer pastures.
How do you find new customers for the business?
We started by attending local farmers markets. This was a great way for us to meet and connect with our customer base, but it’s difficult and labor intensive. It’s tough to know how much beef and which cuts to take every week. Now we’re working to build our online sales through social media and word of mouth.
What are some challenges you’ve encountered with the beef business?
While the demand is there, it has been somewhat difficult to find our target market customers. We’re not the cheapest beef, but we have great quality beef, so we needed to find the customers who were looking for those options. We also had some difficulties with the backend of our website, trying to figure out the best solutions for selling our products online.
What would you tell other farmers considering a direct-to-consumer business?
Do some research on who your customer will be – who will fit with what you’re offering – and be receptive to what customers want. Also, make sure it matches up with your current business model if you don’t want to invest a lot into the new business. That’s why this venture made sense for us. We didn’t have to invest much, since we already had the beef operation and we were already growing feed for our animals. It made sense that this was a next step for us.
Boxes ready for shipping; Scholze uses a biodegradable, corn-based insulation.
What are the next steps for Scholze Family Beef?
Eventually, we would like to sell the majority of our products online. We’ve also discussed adding some dairy products and partnering with a hog or chicken farm to expand our product selections to customers.