Chemical-free, 100% free-range and ethical are the words that Oliver Hagen uses to describe the value of organics to his customers.
Hagen’s Organic Meats was established by his father, Royce Hagen, in 1999 as one of Victoria’s original organic butcheries.
“We started selling organic fruit and vegetables at the Prahran Markets 25 years ago, until my Dad saw the opportunity to open a small organic butcher thanks to requests from our customers. It was so successful we were invited to open a stand at the Queen Victoria Market a couple of years later.”
“We have all kinds of customers including the wealthy who buy organic because of the label, those that know organics and love the meat, those that buy our meat for ethical reasons, so we have a very large customer base. We have strategically placed our stores in two of Melbourne’s most prominent markets and have just opened up a third wholesale outlet in Richmond.”
Hagen’s Meats including lamb, beef, pork and poultry is also stocked at seven retail outlets throughout Melbourne.
At the age of 13, Oliver began working at his family’s butcher shops.
“I wanted a job, so I started as one of the “clean up” kids on Saturdays. Since then it’s become such a big part of my life, that I don’t know a world without it.
He’s now 24 and Oliver has seen a huge following of regulars build up over those 11 years.
“Our brand has become well-established in Melbourne now, mostly through word-of-mouth.”
The Hagens source their organic meat directly from up to 12 farmers at any one time throughout Victoria and over the borders into NSW and South Australia.
“I’ve been out to the farms a few times to meet the growers. We know what they feed their animals and we know that they treat them well. I won’t hesitate to call up and praise the farmers if their meat is good or provide areas where there could be room for improvement,” Oliver says.
“I have always been keen to maintain strong communications with the growers every step of the supply chain, from the moment the animals leave the property and are sent to the local certified organic abattoirs to be killed, all the way to being delivered to our stores in the early hours of the morning.
“The farmers generally find us. We haven’t needed to go searching for them. They’ll either call up or come in to see us. We’ll ask for a sample of their meat which, being organic, has to be of the highest quality. People are paying premium prices for this meat and we only demand premium from the grower. A lot of farmers get annoyed at us for being too tough on them, but we have one chance to impress our customers and if we don’t get it right the first time it’s unlikely that they will come back. We are a family business that takes a lot of pride in supporting other family businesses.”
Oliver says that while sales of organic meat are increasing, so too is the competition.
“When we first opened our doors in the Prahran Markets, we were the only organic butcher around. Now the idea of organic has become “trendy” and more and more people are interested to know where their food comes from and how it has been raised which is great,” he says.
“That’s why we’ve had to turn to social media and our website as forms of advertising.”
Oliver used his initiative to take Hagen’s Organic Butcher online two years ago, setting up the website (hagensorganics.com.au/about) and social media accounts including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
“We want that authentic and down-to-earth feel to accompany our slogan of “we know meat”. Not only are we organic, but we know what we are talking about,” he says.
“Dad wasn’t going to do this stuff but I knew that if we didn’t set ourselves up in this marketing sphere, then we would certainly be left in the dust. Like a lot of people nowadays, whenever I want something I tend to jump on my iPhone and search for it. I need to put more work into our online presence, but hopefully we’ll start to see results of a bigger customer base.
“As a customer, you can order cuts of meat online and we can bring it right to their door with our delivery service.”
Oliver also keeps people updated on incoming stock on the website’s homepage and Facebook page including certified NASAA beef from Creightons Creek in Victoria, certified ACO Wagyu beef from Gundooe Organics in NSW, certified ACO poultry from Bendele Farm, Kilkivan in Queensland, free range Berkshire pork from McIvor Farm, Tooborac in Victoria and certified ACO Saltbush lamb from South Australia.
“The origin of the meat is important when selling organics, because if people are going to be paying a premium price they like to know where the animals have been reared, how far the meat has travelled and that they are supporting a local producer,” he says.
“The barriers for potential customer buying organic is price, although organic meat is not that much more expensive than traditionally-raised meat. You’ll buy a conventional leg of lamb for $17/kilogram and $18.50 per kilogram for an organic leg of lamb so generally speaking, there’s only a few dollars a kilo between them. We have to lift our game and be more competitive with an increasing number of organic butchers popping up.
“Customers always ask why they pay more for organic meat and I tell them that keeping to organic principles involves more man-hours, no preservatives are used so there is a shorter shelf life for the product, there are no growth hormones, antibiotics and genetically engineered drugs used so the animals don’t bulk up as much or as quickly, organic feed is more expensive; input costs are expensive for the farmer which will always feed down the supply chain to the customer. Some people get it and some people don’t. That’s fine.
“We see a growing market and positive future for the organic meat retail trade otherwise we wouldn’t be investing so much time and money into our branding, online and social media presence.
“It’s the way food is supposed to be.”