Beefing up business
Adams Ranch reinvents itself by offering direct delivery service
BY ANTHONY WESTBURY
Since Alto Adams Sr. first purchased ranch land on western Orange Avenue in St. Lucie County in 1937, the place has been a constant hive of innovation.
Judge Adams insisted on breeding his cattle the old-fashioned, natural way - using little to no chemicals. His son, Alto Jr. [Bud] expanded that approach exponentially, putting Adams Ranch on the map for ultrasustainable farming and breeding methods.
Bud Adams' main claim to worldwide acclaim lay in his cattle breeding exploits. He developed the Braford breed by crossing Brahmin and Hereford cattle. This produced an animal able to withstand Florida's high temperatures while also supplying the highest quality meat.
Later, he refined his technique even further with ABEEF cattle, whose meat is said to be superior in marbling, tenderness and taste.
Now, since his death in 2017, a new generation has taken the reins at the ranch.
Sons Mike, Lee and Robbie have handled day-to-day operations since 1985. Now the next generation of Adamses is in the saddle. LeeAnn Simmons, 39, Lee Adams' daughter, is corporate secretary and runs the newest side of the business, Adams Ranch Natural Beef.
Simmons and her father and uncles decided to expand the availability of natural beef by selling direct to local restaurants and upscale grocery store chains a few years ago. And even more recently, the company has branched out to offer direct sales of beef to retail customers on the Treasure Coast.
While Adams Ranch still plays its historical role of cattle breeding and the wholesale sale of beef, the natural beef side of the business accounts for an eye-popping 30% of total ranch revenue.
"We still supply  Whole Foods stores in Florida and some restaurants, such as the Gafford in Stuart, as we have the meat," Simmons said.
Another big customer for Adams beef hamburger patties is the Bokampers chain of sports bars in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area and on the west coast of Florida.
Recently, the ranch purchased its own refrigerated truck to expand direct-to-the-public sales. The ranch has a regular booth at the Fort Pierce Farmers Market and also offers door-to-door service to private homes in St. Lucie and Indian River counties. It plans on expanding into Martin County, too, Simmons said.
Eventually, Simmons hopes to be able to ship beef all over Florida using a new website now under development to track orders.
Simmons said the calf-raising process at the ranch has pivoted away from raising whole cattle to a more nuanced system. Calves born on the Orange Avenue and Osceola County ranches are raised there until they are between 6 and 9 months old. Then they are sent to Quincey Cattle Co. in Chiefland for fattening before being shipped to FM Meat Products in nearby Fort McCoy for final processing and packaging.
This process has the advantage of allowing direct quality control of the meat and also boosts ranch profits by eliminating the middleman, Simmons explained.
The latest wrinkle in this established pattern is for Mike Adams' son, Caleb, to drive the new refrigerated truck to the processing plant once a week to load up with beef for local deliveries on the Treasure Coast.
For a while in recent years, the ranch supplied beef directly to the Braford Steakhouse in downtown Fort Pierce, a restaurant owned by the Adams family. However, that arrangement no longer exists. The Braford was taken over by another operator who does not use Adams beef, Simmons said. The business is now known as The Fort Steakhouse.
"First there was COVID and we felt very uncomfortable," Simmons said in explaining the decision to sever ties with the steakhouse. "[Owning a restaurant] was not the right fit for us," she said. "It was stretching our resources and we preferred to concentrate on our cattle-raising operations. We want to primarily improve our product."
Simmons sees the next step in the evolution of Adams Ranch Natural Beef in selling direct to consumers using the new truck and by establishing a dedicated retail store at the Orange Avenue ranch.
For a while, Simmons said, they used wholesale food distributer Cheney Brothers to handle their deliveries. Simmons is married to Cheney Brothers' executive vice president Cheney Simmons.
But, she said, they realized that deliveries of their small quantities of meat were being delayed using large delivery trucks servicing larger clients.
"It was quicker for us [to use our own truck]," Simmons said. "There were too many stops. This way our meat is delivered super-fresh."
The natural beef program contributes one-third of ranch revenues, she confirmed.
"We still breed bulls and heifers, but the majority of calves go into this program," which is running very smoothly, she said.
The ranch maintains 26 Whole Foods stores in Florida as a major customer, Simmons said. They have worked together seamlessly for six years now.
"They are the easiest company to do business with," she said. "They are very understanding with us and we have very few complaints."
Simmons noted that many of their seasonal customers on the Treasure Coast have been clamoring to get home deliveries of meat to their homes up north.
"These are people who visit and enjoy the ranch," Simmons explained. "We have no minimum quantities required here. Local delivery is $20, free for orders over $200."
Simmons is actively working on setting up out-of-state shipping for the natural beef products.
Considering the crème-de-la-crème quality of their beef, prices are relatively affordable. Best sellers include 8-ounce filet mignons for $21 and 14-ounce rib eye steaks at $17.33, before the delivery charge.
Simmons said she tries to accommodate customers' special requests, even for unfamiliar cuts of meat, such as the teres major [a beef tenderloin product that comes only in a single one-pound portion per cow] or picanha, a cut that is very popular with Brazilian customers. She said they have also been selling large quantities of beef bones for broth-making and for dogs.
The natural beef program cannot be described as organic because cattle may receive small amounts of antibiotics if they become sick, Simmons explained.
The program originated with her grandfather.
"We were talking about it 10 to 15 years ago," she recalled. "My dad had a contact with a pork producer up in Madison County and he put us in touch with Whole Foods.
"We have very strict animal welfare rules. Every step of the [calf-raising] process is documented and we're audited every 15 months. There's a lot of recordkeeping, especially for how we [medically] treat the animals.
"After Bud's death, his sons pushed the natural beef programs further along. It's definitely a more sustainable operation nowadays with the lack of travel and gas costs. And there are plenty of potential new customers for us in Florida - 22 million of them!"
Even though Adams Ranch Natural Beef is not a huge operation, Simmons said they sell about 2,000 head of cattle a year, which equates to almost 1 million pounds of meat.
Simmons and her family are managing to make the sustainable farming practices pioneered by her grandfather still relevant today, while also extending an iconic brand into new areas over time.
The future for Adams Ranch looks very bright indeed.
March 09, 2022
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