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To provide as comprehensive a review as possible of Crowd Cow, our editorial team spoke with a co-founder of the company and sampled several of their sustainably produced meat and seafood products in addition to our independent research of the company. Find out why we give this online meat retailer an overwhelmingly positive review.
Crowd Cow’s mission is to increase transparency in the meat industry by providing customers with much greater insights into where and how their top-quality, sustainable meat and seafood products are produced.
Among other key differentiators, our review team was impressed with Crowd Cow because, where most grocery store customers can barely glean from the labeling where their meat comes from, Crowd Cow customers can view photos of the actual farm and read detailed descriptions of the farmers’ (and their cattle’s) lineage and more – no more mystery meat!
Crowd Cow customers can view photos of the actual farm and read detailed descriptions of the farmers’ (and their cattle’s) lineage and more.
What started out as a “cow-by-cow” operation has now matured into a larger endeavor, seeing the recruitment of farms all over the world (including Japan for wagyu).
To learn more about Crowd Cow’s background and their industry-leading meat and seafood products, we spoke with CEO and co-founder Joe Heitzeberg.
Established in 2015, Crowd Cow began with the mission to break down the barriers between everyday meat consumers and the farmers who supply them.
As Joe told us, “buying meat felt very out of touch with other things you can easily buy, like coffee or beer,” pointing to the general lack of insight into who the supplier is, how they raise their stock, and other transparency standards consumers are demanding with so many other products.
“Buying meat felt very out of touch with other things you can easily buy, like coffee or beer.”– Joe Heitzeberg, Co-Founder of Crowd Cow
“So we started knocking on doors,” he said, as meeting each producer and touring their farms personally has always been an important part of the vetting process.
From there, it was a matter of word-of-mouth marketing—both on the producer side and the consumer side—which helped elevate Crowd Cow to what it is today: a globally operating business with a broad selection of beef, bison, chicken, duck, lamb, pork, seafood, and other meat products available to everyday consumers from individual farmers.
The butcher quarterbacks much of the quality control process, carefully monitoring the quality of the product, and when asked about certifications (especially reconciling standards from farmers in Japan or Uruguay), Joe told us, “It’s not our role to invent or force a standard on someone; we make what they (farmers) do transparent. There are many standards and certification programs, so one basic step is to understand which certifications each producer is working with, why or why not, and their plans for the future. However, there is no substitute for visiting each producer.”
“It’s not our role to invent or force a standard on someone; we make what they (farmers) do transparent.”– Joe Heitzeberg, Co-Founder of Crowd Cow
As their product catalog grew, Crowd Cow amassed a library of educational resources for new and returning customers alike, including cooking guides, recipes, and plenty of information about each farm and their products.
Overall Grade: A
Superior standards of transparency, quality, customer service, and more set Crowd Cow apart from the vast majority of competitors.
With Crowd Cow and all other brands, our review process was designed to assign credit (A-F scale) under six universal criteria:
– Website Experience
– Customer Service
– Brand Value
Here’s how Crowd Cow scored, starting with quality.
Combining our firsthand experiences with the products and Crowd Cow’s industry-leading transparency and sustainability standards, we place them in the top tier of meat retailers, online or otherwise.
From pasture-raised wagyu up to level A5, 100% grass-fed beef, prime rib pot roast, fair trade shrimp and salmon, and more, the Crowd Cow catalog as a whole points to a conscientious and culinary-savvy brand that can balance the more affordable and practical with more lavish “special occasion” selections.
The Crowd Cow catalog as a whole points to a conscientious and culinary-savvy brand that can balance the more affordable and practical with more lavish “special occasion” selections.
Even though co-founder Joe describes his company as somewhat skeptical of widely lauded labels like “organic,” Crowd Cow is not actively avoiding them by any means—the majority of their products are organic, grass-fed, sustainable, etc.
Pairing these credentials with our personal experiences with the products, which was overwhelmingly positive, we’ve arrived at a well-deserved score of A for Crowd Cow’s overall quality.
Here’s an overview of Crowd Cow’s products, including several that we sampled personally, to give you a keener sense of the quality level you can expect from the brand.
These are all of the major meat and seafood product categories now available on the Crowd Cow website:
All of these products are available for individual sale or as part of a Crowd Cow membership.
Members, who have their customized boxes shipped to them on a regular basis, have access to a generous field of perks, including steep discounts and even a free protein (more information below).
In addition to raw meat and seafood, Crowd Cow offers several prepared options throughout all of these categories, such as lobster mac and cheese, fully cooked smokehouse chipotle beef brisket, cooked barbacoa beef, scalloped au gratin potatoes, and more.
Since “beef” and “seafood” are about as descriptive as “food” and “drink,” here’s a closer look inside each of these broader categories.
Crowd Cow divides their beef selection into four categories: 100% grass-fed beef, pasture-raised beef, pasture-raised wagyu, and Japanese Wagyu.
Between these four categories, you have multiple options for every common preparation/cut available: ground, sirloin, ribeye, filet, flank, flat iron, New York strip, roast, and more.
There are also plenty of bundles available, whether you want surf and turf, the farmers market box (several beef, chicken, and seafood options together), and more.
Now for the standout: Wagyu.
Wagyu, which means “Japanese cow” in Japanese, are raised by specialized breeders under very strict conditions—well, they’re strict in the sense that only a select few with completely pure bloodlines qualify.
As Joe explained to us, Wagyu does not delineate a specific breed, but of the four breeds of cattle native to Japan, Kuroge-washu is especially well-suited for Wagyu because of their genetic predisposition to “producing fine-grained, intramuscular fat, and a high degree of oleic and glutamic acid in the fat which produces the treasured ‘umami’ flavor profile.”
“Wagyu does not delineate a specific breed, but of the four breeds of cattle native to Japan, Kuroge-washu is especially well-suited for Wagyu.”– Joe Heitzeberg, Co-Founder of Crowd Cow
After these cows are bred and sold off to farmers, their upbringing is anything but strict—they are treated better than we are, in fact, enjoying regular massages and even classical music so they can live with as little stress as possible.
Their diets are maintained with much more scrutiny and care than non-Wagyu cows, and combined with the zero-stress philosophy, this pampering results in unrivaled marbling and a rich, delicious flavor that even humanely raised non-Wagyu cows can’t match.
The highest grade is A5, which Crowd Cow has available as striploin ends, chuck steaks, filet medallions, prime rib, New York strips, and more.
This category contains Norwegian Atlantic salmon, Maine lobster tails, trout, sea bass, several kinds of shrimp, king crab, scallops, and more.
Seafood selections also include wild sockeye cold smoke salmon, cobia taco and ceviche pieces, and other prepared seafood items so you can just cook and be done with it (or not cook it at all if that’s your thing) when you’re in more of a hurry.
Finally, you can actually look up each partner farm and buy directly from their stock if you prefer.
Each entry contains some information about the farm, pictures, and the usual e-commerce setup featuring the section of the Crowd Cow catalog filtered for that farm.
Or, if you’re looking to get everything you need for a football watching party, you can check out the football feast section of the site for brisket, dogs, ribs, pulled pork, and more.
Casual site visitors and regular customers alike are not required to register for a Crowd Cow subscription at any point, but if you do, you will gain access to the following perks:
In some cases, members can even save 50% or more on certain items, but it’s a rotating selection you have to keep your eye out for throughout the year.
As e-commerce subscriptions go, Crowd Cow lands on the higher end of the flexibility spectrum, allowing subscribers to customize their own boxes or choose from a number of pre-set options like “the best of crowd cow lean,” “best of beef,” and others.
Considering the savings, the available free proteins, and the flexibility, we see no downsides to a Crowd Cow subscription, so long as you are committed to sticking with the brand for a longer period of time.
Everything a customer would want to know about their meat and/or seafood, including where it comes from and the conditions in which it is raised, is readily available on the Crowd Cow website.
Being that the genesis for Crowd Cow’s founding was to answer this very question, one that the industry giants kept dodging in hopes we would stop asking, it’s no surprise they excelled in transparency.
It doesn’t get much more obvious than this; for every single item you buy, Crowd Cow can actually tell you about the farm, the farmers, their practices, and more, complete with pictures.
We aren’t talking essay-length descriptions, but at least a few solid paragraphs about the farm is included in each profile, including all the major bullet points (pasture-raised, grass-fed, etc.) as well as some richer background for anyone interested.
The more we learned about Crowd Cow, the more we realized that the meat industry as a whole needs to adapt if it wants to retain the increasingly critical and health-conscious audience emerging from the pandemic.
Co-founder Joe Heitzeberg provided more excellent and sometimes feather-ruffling insights in this regard, starting with the driving force behind Crowd Cow: addressing terrible transparency standards.
Even as other highly common categories like beer, coffee, eggs, and others continue to share more insights into how the food/beverage is made, safety standards, and so on, that same old tube of grocery store beef remains a tight-lipped enigma.
Having visited so many farms, Joe explained to us that farmers are very passionate about what they do; each has a story to tell that can help them connect with consumers and put their minds at ease.
“There’s a connection to the land, the cattle, and the family lineage,” Joe said, “there’s accountability there.”
Of course, there’s a reason why megalithic meat producers are hesitant to provide this information, being that no such connection exists.
Not unlike asking someone to relegate the story of their own upbringing to a one- or two-word response, Joe explained to us that coveted buzzwords like “organic” and “wild caught” are often very poor representations of the products they describe.
Nobody could reasonably argue the health benefits of organic food, but as Joe explained, “Some farmers live on protected land that’s never had a chemical on it, but their meat isn’t certified organic because they have to treat their wooden fence posts to endure heavy snowfall each winter.”
“Some farmers live on protected land that’s never had a chemical on it, but their meat isn’t certified organic because they have to treat their wooden fence posts to endure heavy snowfall each winter.”– Joe Heitzeberg, Co-Founder of Crowd Cow
“Wild caught” is potentially more problematic, as most wild-caught fish are being overfished to extinction.
On the other hand, Crowd Cow has a partner with a sustainable trout farming system that uses natural river water to raise the fish, and when the water is returned to the river from which it came, it’s cleaner than it was before (they even filter out the excrement to sell as fertilizer).
The COVID-19 pandemic has given public health and environmental consciousness serious bumps, adding big meat to the list of outdated industries now under a microscope.
As the pandemic (sort of) waxes and wanes, consumers have shifted their eating behaviors more permanently; young and old people alike are cooking at home more often and taking nutrition more seriously.
This is all to say that the majority of us are getting wise to the game—we get second opinions from doctors, read reviews before booking hotels, and now we’re turning to meat and seafood with the same expectations of transparency.
As a result, Joe believes regulations will reflect this increased consciousness, and big producers will have to make some foundational changes in the direction of Crowd Cow to remain competitive, or at the very least, legally compliant.
What had been mildly dismissed by most in the preceding decades as “yuppy trends” (sustainable products, grass-fed beef, etc.) is now being thrust into the light as our ticket out of this situation.
Secret shopping from your living room may not be as fun, but the Crowd Cow website made it more bearable with a frictionless browsing/shopping experience alongside very strong photography.
Not purporting to be grandmasters of web design ourselves (but hey, we’ve learned a couple things), when it comes to crediting brands for website experience, we pay more attention to raw e-commerce functionality and content quality.
In the case of Crowd Cow, whose tidily appointed site delivers a straightforward online shopping experience, we found little to complain about.
Purchasing and buying products is seamless (no fluffy/extra pages getting in your way), we never had to backtrack to add more items, and everything is backed by a wealth of supporting content.
In addition to information about each farm, Crowd Cow has more than a few recipes and blog posts to inspire some new dishes and learn more about the company and what they do.
Finally, accessing support, general company information, and other more logistical features is made very easy without hunting through obscure pages and/or backtracking.
Considering the lack of “returnability” inherent to all their products, we consider a policy of crediting the customer when problems occur (which Crowd Cow does) as the gold standard in this case.
Naturally, returns are not “on the table” (get it?) when it comes to meat and seafood, so we were curious to learn how Crowd Cow handles quality issues.
Disclaiming at the outset that issues can be highly subjective (especially when customers don’t like how the meat is cut), and that Crowd Cow has preventive practices in place to prevent low-quality cuts from shipping, Joe explained to us that in the majority of cases, customers with issues are credited.
As we learned from a team member of ours who has ordered from Crowd Cow in the past, the customer service team handles issues politely and expeditiously.
In this case, we noticed an order we reported by the shipping tracker as delivered, when it hadn’t arrived yet.
Crowd Cow responded immediately to our inquiry, assuring us it would arrive soon after, which it did (and with extra ice just in case this exact delay occurred).
Speaking of shipping, Crowd Cow uses 100% eco-friendly packaging materials with each order, including cardboard boxes and biodegradable foam that will dissolve with a bit of warm water.
All orders come frozen, and can be shipped to any state with the exceptions of Alaska and Hawaii.
We expected a premium, considering the quality/transparency of the products and the fact they are delivered to your door, but Crowd Cow keeps it reasonable for the most part.
Most of Crowd Cow’s products are around 60-100% more expensive than their grocery store counterparts, but some of the more everyday items are easier on the mark-ups.
It’s more difficult than usual to contextualize each price point because so few brands of note are doing what Crowd Cow is doing to this scale (sustainable, grass-fed meat shipped to your door).
Instead of haggling over pennies-per-ounce comparisons, it’s better to evaluate the cost of the higher quality, transparency, and sustainability that Crowd Cow products afford their customers.
Still, when it comes to less extravagant selections (think chicken breasts and ground beef versus Wagyu), we found that Crowd Cow dips closer to a more competitive pricing model, often weighing in at roughly $2 more per pound than the grocery store analog.
Measured as the impact of a brand on their industry and customer base, we have to recognize Crowd Cow for putting pressure on “mass meat” by pushing for more ethical, pro-consumer standards.
As mentioned, transparency is the core of Crowd Cow’s mission, but they also focus on sidestepping the environmental impact of mass meat (sustainable farming practices, 100% eco-friendly packaging, etc.) and bringing the highest-quality meat and seafood products to the table.
Speaking of disrupting the industry, simply building their business on the model they’ve chosen applies a constant pressure to Crowd Cow’s dated competitors; the pressure to adapt to the new standard of pro-consumer transparency or die.
A simpler way to define this criterion of brand value is to imagine what would happen to the industry if said company was suddenly removed, which, in the case of Crowd Cow, would surely move the needle back towards the “just eat it and don’t ask questions” precedent we’ve dealt with for too long.
From environmentally conscious and innovative packaging to the superior flavor and nutritional profile of their meat and seafood offerings, our review team ranks Crowd Cow among the best in the meat industry.
This is where we simply state our account of our personal experiences with the products from one critical customer to another.
After ample testing of many of Crowd Cow’s more popular products, including grass-fed beef, Wagyu, and more, this is what our Editor in Chief had this to say about his experience with the company and their products:
In which condition did your Crowd Cow orders arrived?
“They go out of their way to make sure the package arrives in good condition. It’s a big, sturdy box that comes with high-quality insulation and a lot of dry ice. From what I could tell – especially when there were a lot of delays/disruptions in 2020 with COVID – they definitely put enough dry ice in there to last if shipping was delayed for one or even multiple days. Usually, shipments arrived with a personalized note that had my name written on it and a reference to one of the items we purchased, cooking tips, etc.”
What can you tell us about the products themselves?
“The food quality is consistently really high. The Wagyu is on an entirely separate level, but even the regular pasteurized steaks and chicken are of a significantly higher quality than what you get in a grocery store. One thing you have to get used to when it comes to grass-fed beef is that it’s not going to be as marbled as grain-fed beef because of the lower-fat diet, so a lot of people don’t like it for that reason. Still, there’s a decent amount of marbling, the flavor is excellent, and it’s a lot healthier for you. It’s delicious, and clearly of high quality.”
Anything else you’d like to add?
“The customer service is on par with the product quality. Every time we’ve had even a minor issue, they’ve been really quick to address it.”
In our overarching evaluation of the brand’s driving principles, pricing model, customer service, we found these comments to be accurately reflected.
Finally, we like to conclude our reviews by acting as a mouthpiece for each brand, giving them an open lane to tell the world one thing they want people to know about the industry they’re in and/or the company they run. So we asked Crowd Cow co-founder Joe, What’s one thing you want everyone to know about Crowd Cow and/or sustainable meat products?
With no hesitation, Joe simply stated, “It just tastes better. Everything else is great (sustainability, etc.), but this meat actually tastes better, too.”
Energy drinks and sugary snacks may be louder, sweeter, and faster-acting than natural sources of sugar, but rarely are those benefits conferred without some form of reckoning down the road.
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