Bison sales on the up

06/23/2011 @ 8:51am

Demand for bison continues to grow as marketers race to keep up.  If adequate supplies of market-ready animals are available, half of U.S. bison marketers could increase sales by more than 25% today, according to a recent survey conducted by the National Bison Association. 

The prediction comes from an online survey conducted in late May of the industry’s 12 largest marketers.  The results were announced at the NBA annual summer conference in Big Sky, MT late last week.

The predicted breakthrough may be the beginning of the end of a 25-year shortage of bison in the marketplace, according to the association’s website.   When the health advantages of bison meat caught on, supply became a long-term game of catch-up. 

“Years ago, people weren’t as familiar with bison and were more willing to try it in a restaurant.  Once they took their first bite, they loved the product and began looking for it in the grocery stores,” said Dave Carter, executive director of the NBA.

Though it is a step in the right direction, 90% of the survey respondents said that the tight supply situation could continue into at least 2014. 

“All of us marketers are looking at this year’s calf crop, because that will be our supply in 2014,” said Bruce Anderson, chair of the NBA Commercial Marketers’ Committee, and owner of Western Buffalo Co. in Rapid City, SD.  

At the conference, the marketers universally targeted herd expansion as the number one priority for the industry.  Retaining existing producers, encouraging new producers, and stabilizing prices were also discussed. 

The bison marketplace is split roughly even between retail and foodservice customers, but lately retail sales are pulling ahead to occupy more of the marketplace.  A market study conducted in 2003 found that retail sales are increasing rapidly, with restaurants and foodservice outlets making up 80% of the market at that time.