Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Giunta Tries Again

When Charles Giunta opened Giunta's Prime Shop at the Reading Terminal Market a couple years ago his goal was to offer natural, hormone-free meats. It didn't work. As Charlie has complained to me on numerous occasions, customers like all-natural, hormone-free, no-antibiotics beef, but few want to pay the freight. Price beats all.

As evidence, he points out that the Reading Terminal Market has the highest volume of food stamp purchases in the state, and these shoppers have to be particularly thrifty. Shoppers who are fortunate enough not to need food stamps are just as thrifty. With few exceptions they also buy on price, though just like food stamp shoppers they seek the best possible quality for their buck.

The market for the premium meat remains small. Either of the city's two Whole Foods store, which carry hormone-free, natural meats exclusively, sell only half the dollar volume that he does each week, Giunta estimates. Even Harry Ochs, long renowned as the market's premier butcher specializing in prime meats, doesn't move much of the good stuff: look at Ochs' cases and you'll see nearly half the space taken up by prepared foods and Boar's Head deli meats; much of the fresh meat that remains, while certainly of high quality, is conventionally-raised.

Although Giunta has concluded he can't make a living if he relied on all-natural product, that doesn't mean he won't stop trying to make it work, at least for part of his business.

This weekend, you can expect to see all-natural, hormone-free, antibiotic-free meats from Peterson & Shaner, a small-scale operation in Douglassville, not far from Pottstown.  Peterson & Shaner raises about 50 head of Black Angus for slaughter each year, as it has since the 1950s. The beef is grass fed until shortly before slaughter, when they are switched to corn and other grains grown on the farm. They are shipped only so far as a Quakertown slaughterhouse for processing, with the carcasses sent back to Douglassville where individual customers can order whole sides which are they butchered while they watch (and the customer does his or her own packing). They hang the beef for two weeks before they let the customer do the packing.

Because Peterson & Shaner doe not use growth hormones, the sides are smaller than most commercial beef, which means the steaks and other cuts will be smaller (though you can always get a thicker cut of steak if you want more meat). It also means don't expect any filet mignons, since the tenderloins are much too small.

Giunta made a trip Sunday to Douglassville and came back with three sides, which he's starting to cut today. As of this morning, he's still figuring out the pricing, but expect them to be a few bucks a pound more than his usual product.

If you want have access to this type of quality beef at the Reading Terminal Market, bite the bullet and go buy some this weekend. If Giunta doesn't move it at a price at which he can make a fair profit, don't expect to see it in the future.

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