Would you buy meat off a truck?
Thousands of U.S. residents are lining up for bulk-buy "meat events" in parking lots. Are the savings that good?
Of course, that "sketchy, perhaps even illicit" vibe could be part of the company's success, according to Brad Tuttle of Time magazine: "That you're in on some sneaky, quasi-black market operation."
Nothing that naughty. Buyers order and pay online and then head for predetermined pickup spots, usually the parking areas outside churches, bowling alleys and roller rinks. These meat "events," as Zaycon calls them, take place several times per year for each product (bacon, ground beef, et al.) in the 48 contiguous states.
Customers save at least $1 to $4 per pound over supermarket prices, depending on the item. The lower cost is due to lower overhead: no shopping carts, no bags, no fixed store location with taxes, upkeep and numerous employees.
No shrink wrap, either: You're buying meat that has to be packaged up and frozen once you get it home. Is it worth the extra effort?
Definitely yes, according to Jenny Martin of the Southern Savers blog. The cheapest 93% lean ground beef in her area is $3.99 a pound or more; Zaycon will sell her a 40-pound box of the stuff for $2.97 per pound.
"I'll gladly take the $40 savings of buying it in bulk," says Martin, who has four children.
A Ponzi of pork?
The Spokane-based company has been delivering meat around the country for a little over three years. From the start it spread the word via Internet, according to Zaycon spokesman Mike Conrad, who helped deliver free boxes of chicken to 400 "recipe bloggers, food bloggers, mommy bloggers, coupon bloggers."
They became his brand evangelists and continue to sing the praises of the additional Zaycon products, from link sausage to chicken wings, that have been added to the meaty roster. (Non-animal products, such as fresh fruits and frozen French fries, are also available from time to time.)
Those bloggers get a $1 credit each time someone signs up for Zaycon. Then again, but so does any customer who refers a new buyer. Thus your savings increase if co-workers and friends sign up using your referral link.
On the surface this looks like a multi-level-marketing scheme, a veritable Ponzi of pork. However, a couple of bloggers I know personally -- Martin, and Tiffany Ivanovsky of a blog called MyLitter.com -- say their families eat Zaycon products all the time. The two women have 11 children between them, and knowing how picky kids can be I'm inclined to believe that the food tastes good.
Both Martin and Ivanovsky note that some Zaycon prices are similar to those found at Costco and other warehouse stores. However, not everyone lives near a warehouse club, or wants to belong to one (especially if you're an impulse buyer who could go in to buy ground beef and come out with a trampoline and five pounds of gummy bears).
It's common for friends to split orders, according to Conrad. On her blog, Ivanovsky invites readers to leave comments looking for others in their neighborhoods who want to go halvsies on Zaycon products.
Buying off the truck could be a "set it and forget it" way of saving money: stocking up every few months vs. scouring the weekly food ads for the lowest prices on meats (and paying full price if they're not on sale).
This commerce model isn't for everyone, though. It's necessary to factor in the time it takes to drive to the pickup location -- and, maybe, some wait time since the contracted trucks are sometimes late. The company tries to contact buyers to let them know, Conrad says, and predicts that Zaycon will have its own trucks and drivers as business grows.
In addition, the sight of 40 pounds of ground beef or 30 pounds of link sausage can be a little daunting. "But the cost and quality (are) worth it," Ivanovsky says.
This post on MyLitter.com includes a video of how Ivanovsky prepares and stores the products. Some get seasoned and cooked before freezing, for quick meals later on, and some just go on ice. Although she owns one of those seal-a-meal contraptions, the blogger says zip-type freezer bags work just as well.
Some people might not be able to get past the idea of buying from a truck -- even a refrigerated one. Others might feel that their time is worth more than a $40 savings. The rest of us will stock up on freezer bags.
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