New Zealand Farmers Visit Sickles Market

June 3, 2018
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Named Silver Fern Farms’ Top Young Farmer of 2017, Nigel Woodhead (right) stands next to fellow New Zealand farmer Nelson Hancox in front of Sickles Market’s grass-fed beef case. They are part of a visiting group of farmers who supply Sickles Market with grass-fed meats.

By Chris Rotolo |

LITTLE SILVER – It was a moment to savor for a group of New Zealand farmers who made the long voyage to Sickles Market.

On Friday, May 25, 11 members of Silver Fern Farms, a multinational meat co-operative owned by 16,000 New Zealand farmers of sheep, cattle, chicken and deer, came to Little Silver to meet their Monmouth County customers in person. The stop was arranged in cooperation with Marx Imports, an Atlantic Highlands-based premium meats supplier.

Sickles Market owner Bob Sickles led the farming group on a tour of his lively, fresh-food market, where local residents were lining the meat department counter looking for beef, lamb and chicken for Memorial Day weekend cookouts.

“It was fantastic to walk into this store and not only see our product on the shelves but to interact with people as they were buying it. It was truly a special moment,” said Nelson Hancox, who operates 6,000 acres and a 27,000 stock-unit sheep and beef finishing operation in Tapanui, West Otago, New Zealand, with his wife Fiona, the director of Silver Fern Farms.

“We do what we do back home and the product goes off around the world and that’s usually the end of it,” Hancox said. “But we’ve always been interested to see where it actually ends up and who is enjoying it.”

Justin and Frank Marx of Atlantic Highlands-based Marx Imports (left), Nigel Woodhead of Silver Fern Farms, and Bob Sickles of Sickles Market discuss the farming of grass-fed beef, lamb and chicken outside the Little Silver establishment, where a group of New Zealand farmers came for a tour Friday, May 25. Photo by Chris Rotolo

Following the tour, Sickles invited the farming group and members of the Marx Imports team – Frank Marx and his sons Justin and Keith – to a shaded picnic table with a lunch spread featuring sandwiches made with the New Zealand grass-fed beef and an assortment of salads and desserts.

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They discussed what meat and poultry means to an independent provider like Sickles Market and its quality-focused consumers.

“It matters to me that we’re providing our customers with what is the best of the moment,” Sickles said. “Quality product is what we’re focused on and we have your meat in our store for that reason. You’re not here with us today because you’re from New Zealand. You’re here because what you’re producing is of the best quality.”

Silver Fern Farms advertises that, compared to nongrass-fed beef, its free-range, pasture-raised Angus beef is consistently superb quality, has a cleaner, bold flavor and is more environmentally sustainable. No hormone growth promotants are used.

Sickles Market butcher department manager Kristian Bauman offered proof that Sickles’ consumers value their product when he announced that morning Sickels ran a $5 price reduction on all varieties of ground beef. By lunchtime, 30 packages had sold. Of those, 25 were Silver Fern Farms’ grass-fed beef ($34.99 with discount), and 5 were boxes of the domestic corn and grain-fed beef (at $29.00 with discount).

“You really do have a great product,” Baumann said to the farming group. “It’s easy to cut and it’s easy to sell. We just trim it up a bit when we get it, package it up, put it in the case and it really sells itself. Our customers love it.”

Customers preparing for weekend barbecues spoke of a noticeable difference in the taste of grass-fed meat and poultry to that of the corn and grain-fed products.

“There is a noticeable difference in the flavor,” said Red Bank resident Debbie Fister. “It’s almost a smoother and more mellow tasting meat and my family really enjoys it a lot more than the other stuff.”

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Henry Stimus of Shrewsbury said he used to buy the more generic, domestic meat, but after taking a chance on the Silver Fern Farms offerings, he and his family are converts.

“It’s a little bit more costly but you really don’t mind paying the difference because the taste is night and day for me,” Stimus said. “We gave the grass-fed a try earlier this year and we’ve never looked back. We couldn’t go back. The difference in taste would be too noticeable.”

This article was first published in the May 31-June 7, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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