For Wilders Wagyu beef company, based on a farm in Sampson County, the 2023 holiday season could be seen as a watershed moment. This season is helping to put Wilders on the map when it comes to holiday gifts from North Carolina producers.
“It’s really only our second season selling beef and pork. So we’ve seen a huge increase in uptake this year compared to last year,” said Danielle Lantz, the brand and operations manager for the company. “All the hard work that we put in in the very, very beginning [in establishing the herd] is what’s coming available now for us. So it’s really cool to see the full circle and the efforts we’ve put it in.”
While some have heard of Wagyu beef, it’s still an unfamiliar niche product to many. Wagyu beef is a unique type of beef that comes from a breed of special Japanese cows with highly controlled genetic lines. The result is uncommon beef with intense marbling that renders down in the meat when cooked, leaving it with an outstanding flavor that many people say is the best they’ve ever had – even without any seasoning.
While Wilders Wagyu has only been up and running long enough to sell products for one previous Christmas, the company goes back to 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted Reid and Jaclyn Smith to shift some focus to their farm in Johnston County. By the end of 2021, they’d established a “foundational herd” and moved to 1,200 acres in Sampson County. The company had bought land that was previously the Longhorn Creek Ranch, which had been a cutting horse farm. With the operation fully established in 2022, Wilders Wagyu significantly expanded the herd and began selling beef.
“Now we’re starting to reap those rewards,” Lantz said as she explained the significance of the 2023 holiday season.
With the herd growing and the meat processing operation running smoothly, Wilders Wagyu was ready to pump up advertising for online sales in time for this holiday season. The company has also been selling directly to customers at farmers markets and pop-up Christmas markets too.
The other big move for Wilders was opening a store on the farm. Starting the second week of November, Wilders welcomed shoppers to the store at 525 Longhorn Creek Lane in the town of Turkey. In addition to meat, customers can find shirts, hats, coffee mugs and other merchandise.
“Going into this holiday season, our goal was to empty the freezers – whatever it takes to sell out of things, and we’ll be excited if that happens,” Lantz said. “The people want it. We got it. We’re ready to get it to them. Then we’ve put some processing dates on the calendar already just to be sure that when we do empty the freezers at the end of the season, that we’re prepared and ready to go into the new season.”
Wilders Wagyu seems to be on track to meet the goal. The company has seen increased interest in bundles that combine a few cuts of meat at a special price. There are also subscription boxes that deliver assortments of meat and pork at monthly, bi-monthly and quarterly intervals. The bundles and boxes are in addition to meat selections that can be purchased a-la-cart.
Prices are higher than normal beef prices, but the premium price is matched by the premium quality and flavor of the Wagyu steaks and other cuts. Wilders Wagyu is always 100 percent Wagyu instead of a blend of Wagyu and other beef. In addition, customers know the Wagyu was raised locally in eastern North Carolina.
Ultimately, the folks at Wilders want their customers to feel that connection to North Carolina.
“We want people to feel like they’re buying into something that’s more than just buying meat – that they understand where it comes from and that they’re excited about the brand that we’ve built,” Lantz said.
So while the online sales are a big part of their business, don’t forget the store in Turkey, and don’t be surprised if you continue to see the Wilders folks at markets making face-to-face connections with customers and even handing out a few samples.