The value of bison meat sold in grocery stores, restaurants and farmers' markets topped $278 million in 2011, according to an economic analysis released this week from the National Bison Association.
The 2011 retail and restaurant sales represent a 15.8 percent jump over the previous year, despite a 16 percent drop in the number of animals processed commercially compared to 2010, according to the bison association's calculation of the economic size of the U.S. bison business.
"The economic data underscores the great connection that bison producers have made with customers across the country," said Dave Carter, executive director of the National Bison Association.
According to the National Bison Association analysis, retail and foodservice sales of bison reached $278.9 million in 2011, compared to $241.1 million the previous year. The estimated carcass value of all animals processed commercially in 2011 was $110 million, compared to $93.6 million in 2010. However, the 53,680 bison processed under USDA and state-level inspection in 2011 was 16 percent below the 63,900 harvested in 2010.
A significant factor behind the lower levels of animals processed in 2011 is that bison producers are holding back animals to build their herds to keep pace with increasing consumer demand.
Carter noted, "The economic analysis illustrates that the American consumer is a strong partner in restoring bison to the pastures and rangelands across North America. The economic signals in the marketplace are providing a strong incentive for ranchers to build their herds."
Bison as a meat in the American marketplace has been slowly making its way back since the early 1900s when bison had been hunted almost to extinction and the remaining herds were gathered up and put into protective preserves.
Today, bison ranching is a niche red meat market, appealing to those who want to support an eco-friendly, low-fat alternative to beef.