Nose to Tail to Shelf
Think meat bars and liver jerky for snacking, bone broth for sipping and beef tallow for cooking.
It's all part of founders Taylor Collins and Katie Forrest's Whole Animal Project initiative", which just got the major boost in funding that will put the products in more mouths and likely impact ranchers across the country.
Collins and Forrest started Epic as a small line of meat bars made with quality ingredients, like the popular grass-fed bison bacon cranberry, in 2013, and the company grew quickly from the get-go. In January, General Mills announced it had acquired Epic and would operate it under its natural food brand Annie's.
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"A lot of people are watching what's happening here, because this is unheard of," Collins says. "A multinational company purchased a brand that's as small as ours and so focused on a mission, values and our purpose in the world."
From the beginning, Collins and Forrest have been committed to sourcing grass-fed bison and beef, but buying cuts of meat that weren't a product of the feedlot system proved challenging. "In our first six months of business, we exhausted the grass-fed bison supply chain in the U.S.," Collins says.
With new capital from General Mills, they're now stepping in much earlier in the process and purchasing entire animals from ranchers who will agree to "finish" the animals on grass rather than selling them into the feedlot system, where they would have been confined and fed grain. As a result, they're solving their own supply issues and increasing the number of animals who are raised on pasture, a practice they believe is better for the animal, environment and eater.
"We've been able to decrease our waste, and we feel like we're honoring the animal that lived and died," Collins says. "And we're producing products that are the most nutrient dense." (They're even building their own ranch outside Austin that will function as a training and education center for ranchers.)
So what does that mean for your palate? In addition to the bars they've been making for a while—from beef habanero cherry to chicken Sriracha and lamb currant mint—they recently launched beef liver jerky and a line of cooking oils, including beef tallow, pork lard and duck fat. Epic's first line of bottled broths—beef jalapenño sea salt, turkey cranberry sage and homestyle savory chicken—will be on shelves next to the kombucha and green juices at Whole Foods locations across the country by early March.
Later this year, a line of game-meat bars made from wild-caught salmon, venison and wild boar will also debut. (Wild boar is a non-native, destructive species in Texas, and Epic is working with trappers to capture them. Really.)
"It's crazy how Americans love beef, chicken and pork," Collins says, "and there are so many other amazing healthy animals in the animal kingdom, but people . . . are not exposed or don't have access to them."
And though many are skeptical that the General Mills deal will mean a shift away from the company's founding principles and quality commitments, he insists that they've essentially been left to continue doing what they're doing independently, and it will only increase the positive impact Epic can make.
"It's going to impact how other big national companies think," he speculates. "Maybe they'll think, Do we want to develop five more flavors of Pop-Tarts this year or invest in a brand that's actually doing something good for the world? That's really exciting."
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