Purple Ribbon Beef: Turning market on its head

Ensuring a family legacy

-Photo by Teresa Wood
Ashley Recknor and her father, Pete Hunter, work in the calving barn at Purple Ribbon Beef in Clarion. By raising cattle from birth to locker, the family can ensure quality control of their brand.

CLARION — In turning a marketing profile on its head, the Purple Ribbon Beef brand was created to ensure a family’s legacy.

For over four generations, the Hunter family of Clarion has been in the cattle business, explained Ashley Recknor, co-owner of Purple Ribbon Beef.

“We have always been in cattle,” explained Recknor, who traced the origins of the family business back to her maternal grandparents, Ben and Mabel Barkema, and to paternal grandparents, Dr. Hollis and Evelyn Hunter. Their knowledge and experience was then passed down to Pete and Cindy Hunter. In turn, the Hunters passed down their passion to their daughters Reckner, 29, and Sara Hunter, 33.

“I had a bucket calf even before I was old enough to join 4-H,” said Recknor.

While some families went to the beach for summer vacation, the Hunters attended national cattle shows where their daughters shined. The office inside the Hunter home is a testament to their achievements with purple grand champion banners heralding their excellence.

-Photo by Teresa Wood
When the Hunter family of Clarion decided to establish a brand name for their beef, they had only to look as far as the office of their home where grand champion  banners, won by their daughters Ashley Recknor, left, and Sara, adorn the walls.

So when the family decided to make a concerted effort to safeguard the future of their business, they created Purple Ribbon Beef in 2016 with Pete, Cindy and Sara Hunter and Ashley and her husband Jess Recknor. The next generation is represented by Rylan, the Recknor’s eight month old daughter.

“Formally, we created a brand that we could market directly to the consumer,” said Recknor.

Purple Ribbon Beef caters to the growing number of informed consumers who want to know where their beef is raised, how it is handled and what product best suits their needs, said Recknor.

The cattle of Purple Ribbon Beef are corn finished, said Recknor. While the company does not use hormones, it does treat with antibiotics, when needed, to ensure the health of the animal and the quality of the product.

Customers can order a quarter, half or whole beef. The company works with customers to help determine what product best suits their needs, said Recknor. Some people want steaks, some hamburger. Working with the client, Purple Ribbon Beef can help the customer find the best choice of product for their needs.

-Photo courtesy of Images Photography
Purple Ribbon Beef, based in Clarion, is a three generation family business. Rylan Recknor is the youngest family member who has joined in the business with her parents, Ashley and Jesse Recknor, grandparents Cindy and Pete Hunter, and aunt Sara Hunter.

“If a person orders a freezer beef, they can end up with a large quantity of ground beef,” said Recknor. “We help direct them to what’s right for them.”

Purple Ribbon Beef took an innovative approach to processing and turned the supply chain model upside down when it chose to bypass meatpackers, said Recknor. Instead, the Hunters retain control of the product from birth to processor. When a customer places an order, the animal is delivered by the company to the processor. After processing, the consumer has the option of picking up the packaged meat or having Purple Ribbon Beef deliver it.

Purple Ribbon Beef works with local processors LeWright Meats in Eagle Grove and Story City Lockers, noted Recknor.

Purple Ribbon Beef is sold at several retail outlets in addition to being available through direct order. Packaged products are also available at the company headquarters in rural Clarion, said Recknor.

Packaged Purple Ribbon Beef can be found in Ames at the North Grand Farmer’s Market and at the Main Street Farmer’s Market. Menu entrees are served at area restaurants such as Grounded in Clarion and Taste in Osage. The company’s cuts are also served at the Clarion Country Club and the Y-Knot convenience store on South Drive in Clear Lake. Value-added products such as beef jerky and beef sticks are available at That Iowa Girl in Clarion.

-Photo courtesy of Images Photography
Purple Ribbon Beef, produced by the Hunter and Recknor families of Clarion, can be found at restaurants in Ames and Clarion and at the Main Street Farmer's Market and the North Grand Farmer's Market in Ames. It is also available online and at the Clarion operation. The family controls the product from birth to locker to ensure quality beef which is tailored to the consumer.

Customers may also order online from Purple Ribbon Beef’s Facebook page with shipping by mail, added Recknor.

Controlling their product has opened up a tremendous growth opportunity, said Recknor.

The company recently accomplished a big hurdle by attaining platform verified status with Range Me. Verification ensures that their cattle are up to date on vaccinations and that cut beef has been inspected and labeled for resale. The company also passed an essential requirement by proving it can provide a consistent supply of its product.

With that platform vetting process accomplished, Purple Ribbon Beef can now move into more markets without having to go through the certification process each time it attempts to enter another store or restaurant, explained Recknor.

Currently, Purple Ribbon Beef is in contact with local and regional grocers, she said.

As the family works to gain more exposure for its Purple Ribbon Beef brand, there are many roles family members have to play, said Recknor. Each person is important for the continued success of the company.

“Cattle is our passion and we found a way to directly bring a quality product to the consumer,” explained Recknor. “It takes all of us.”