In Edible-Alpha® podcast #77, Tera talks with Sean Lenihan, founder of The Honest Bison, a direct-to-consumer purveyor of 100% grass-fed bison and other meats. Committed to total transparency, The Honest Bison gives consumers easy access to premium, nutritious, ethically and sustainably raised nutritious animal proteins as an alternative to conventionally raised, grain-fed red meats.
While starting the company as a side hustle in 2012, Sean spent two years visiting ranches and slaughterhouses, attending conferences and learning everything he could about the bison industry. He was surprised to discover that bison, which carry a sustainability and health halo, were mostly still finished in feedlots. But as Sean explained to Tera, following the conventional beef industry’s template had been a market necessity for those who built the bison industry from scratch. However, after seeing the carcass of a healthy-looking 100% grass-fed animal next to the carcass of a sick, stressed cow raised in confinement, he knew it was time for change.
With the Better Food Movement sweeping the nation at the time, Sean felt there were now plenty of consumers who were hungry for more sustainable, humane and nutritious meats from a brand they could trust. The Honest Bison earns that trust by partnering closely with ranchers who use regenerative practices. The company furthers its sustainability by selling unwanted carcass parts to other CPGs to use in their products.
But back in 2014, Sean knew the regular retail route likely wouldn’t work for this premium produt. E-commerce, on the other hand, while not very popular for food back then, could. “When we started selling frozen meat over the internet in 2014, you had to have someone super motivated for the benefits and very emotionally against normal meat production,” Sean said.
He was right, and as time went on and more consumers become concerned about their health and the environment, the customer base swelled. Fast-forward to 2020—which has exposed the countless problems with the food supply chain, made climate change unignorable and empowered consumers to get closer to their food sources—The Honest Bison has grown 400% this year alone.
“As this crisis has accelerated things, buying frozen meat over the internet is more popular now than last year,” Sean said. “We are riding that wave but also meeting the challenges that come along with a great change, some of which are exciting and some that are super scary.”
Like many food businesses today, the Honest Bison is dealing with the shortage of cold-chain storage, newly reconfigured distribution networks and delivery snafus. Sean has had to hire more team members to handle the volume and all that comes with it. And with investors still hesitant to back regenerative agriculture endeavors, the company has managed with limited resources.
Sean and Tera go on to discuss the rapidly changing food industry, where more innovation is needed, what it’ll take to continue revolutionizing the food industry and how it’s more important than ever to offer consumers good value and transparency. Tune in to hear their full fascinating, insightful conversation.