Demand growing for naturally raised meats

Americans are increasingly willing to fork over a little extra for free range, organic, and natural meats. And although these still comprise a tiny percentage of the total U.S. market, the food industry is starting to notice. In just one sign of a shift, about 450 growers operating under the aegis of San Francisco-based natural meats supplier Niman Ranch are finding a market for their products from the Chipotle Mexican Grill chain, a subsidiary of McDonald’s. Chipotle often buys all the pork Niman can supply; it’s added naturally raised chicken to the menu, with plans for beef in the works. Demand from specialty grocers like Whole Foods is also changing the market. Many farmers and ranchers who produce natural meats take pride in raising animals the way it’s been done for most of human history. Says Iowa free-range hog farmer Paul Mencke, “I’ve been farming for 32 years, and this is the only way I know how to raise hogs.”