Regional grocer grabs supply chain by the horns

For centuries, farmers planted seeds and fed animals – and then hoped they would find a market when their produce and livestock were ready to sell.

  • Agribusiness entrepreneur Larisa Miller has been pitching a different model – and she found her first taker in Karns Foods, the Cumberland County-based grocery store chain.
A late December event to kick off the Karns Beef Program attracted, from left: Russell Redding, Pennsylvania’s agriculture secretary; state Rep. Barb Gleim; James Holt, a veterinarian for Keystone Farm Future; Larisa Miller, CEO of Keystone Farm; Scott Karns, president of Karns Foods; U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson; state Rep. Dan Moul; Andrea Karns, vice president of sales and marketing at Karns Foods; state Rep. Clint Owlett; and Dave Rodgers, chief herd manager for Keystone Farm (photo/submitted)
  • Under the model, Karns is buying beef cattle that will be housed at farms across Central Pennsylvania and managed by Miller’s company, Keystone Farm Future
  • The goal is to put Karns in control of its own supply chain for beef at a time when the supply chain is far from assured, Miller said.
  • “The strongest place for any business to be is to control your own supply chain,” said Miller, a former state agriculture official who developed the idea for the Karns Beef Program based on what she has seen around the world as a consultant.

How does it work: Karns buys steers and sends them through an induction center in Honey Brook, Chester County.

  • After their initial introduction, the steers are spread among 15 farms in Chester, Cumberland, Juniata, Lancaster, Lebanon and Perry counties.
  • Keystone Farm Future works with the farmers to manage and monitor the cattle, ensuring they are fed and raised to meet the standards sought by Karns.
  • Keystone Farm also has secured processing capacity.
Cattle at the Karns Beef Program induction center in Honey Brook (photo submitted).
  • The program is starting with 600 steers, said Andrea Karns, vice president of sales and marketing at Karns, who sees the program as a bonus for existing Karns shoppers and a potential attraction for new customers interested in locally raised beef.
  • “We do have local beef now,” she said. “But this is a way for us to ensure that … our beef coming in every day is local.”
  • The first products under the program — 100% Angus Choice and Prime Beef — are expected to become available in May.
  • Karns operates 10 stores in Cumberland, Dauphin, Perry and York counties

How did it start: Karns, Miller and others unveiled the program last week at a ceremony at the induction center in Honey Brook.

  • But the groundwork began about a year ago when Miller first contacted executives at Karns.
  • “Right away, I knew it was something that we as a company had to explore,” Andrea Karns said.

What’s next: Other grocers could adopt the model, Miller said. And it could be applied to other food products, as well as other industries.

  • “There will undoubtedly be others that will be interested in this model across the U.S.,” said Miller, who grew up on a farm in Lebanon County.
  • Farmers are interested, she added, since the program eliminates some of their biggest financial risks.
  • For now, though, she is focused on making sure the inaugural program unfolds effectively for Karns.

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