Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog

Meat N’ Bone: How three best friends disrupted the meat industry

Meat N’Bone is a hyperlocal online butcher shop. They sell everything from premium beef (including USDA Prime and Wagyu A5) to Iberico Pork, game Meats and Seafood. You can order any of their 250+ products on offer and have it delivered fresh to your door, anywhere in America, in under 48 hours – or in just 2 hours if you’re in South Florida.

The idea was to bring the butcher shop experience online, explains Gabriel Llaurado. Gabriel, along with best friends Luis Mata and German Vollbratch, co-founded Meat N’ Bone together.

We are food fanatics; we love eating and cooking and the finer things in life.

“But we tried looking, and we realised we just couldn’t get premium quality meat cuts anywhere. The only place we could get them was in a steakhouse.”

So we said – let’s do what nobody else is doing. Let’s make it easy for people to get good, fresh meat online. Let’s disrupt the meat market.

This is the story of how three foodie friends ended up delivering meat all over America and being featured in Forbes, Business Insider, the Washington Post, and more.

Where It All Started: “Good Food, Good Friends, Good Times”

Every weekend, Gabriel, German and Luis would get together to share good food. They were willing to search far and wide for the highest quality ingredients for their barbecue – but even so, it was difficult to get great ingredients – and premium cuts of meat. 

“You had to plan days in advance, and when you work a hectic 60 hours a week and live in a big city, it’s hard to plan that way.” 

Part of the problem, in Gabriel’s opinion, is that supermarkets and big chains have destroyed the art of proper butchering. Small butchers are disappearing, wiped out because they can’t compete with convenience and technology. Meanwhile, the only places you can still get meat are supplied by the ‘big beef’ industry – no different to what you could get in a supermarket.

Every time Luis and German went to the Midwest, they would rave about the quality of the beef. And every time they returned to Miami, they were surprised that the quality of the meat was nowhere to be found in South Florida.

So they decided to start a business – an online butcher, serving quality meat cuts, a place where they would be happy to shop at. A couple of weeks after their idea, they had a preliminary business plan. A year later, Meat N’ Bone was born.

A lot of friends get together and say, let’s open a bar. The three of us opened an online butcher shop.

Like all entrepreneurs, they started with lots of ideas and only a little money. They tried to raise funds, but VCs and angel investors turned them away. So, they decided to bootstrap the business. That meant renting space in the back of a friend’s restaurant, coding their own website, building their own furniture, and taking their own pictures.

I built this business with my two best friends. Without them, this would not exist.

Gabriel was a computer scientist who worked in the media business. Luis worked in Finance, and German was a consultant with a background in food-and-beverage. None of them had any experience in the meat industry, but that didn’t stop them.

“I said, I could probably set up the marketing if we opened a store. Luis said he could do the numbers, business plan and forecasting. And German had the operational background, and could work on product testing with his cultivated palate.

In 2018, the three of them started Meat N’ Bone. German went full-time, but Gabriel and Luis worked weeknights and weekends. Business went well enough that they were soon able to open a boutique in Miami and buy their first two cars to deliver straight to customers. 

 

A lot of VCs didn’t get the concept – but we never doubted our model and our approach. We broke a lot of barriers – we proved a lot of people wrong.

The goal was to give customers a great experience: “When you used to go to the butcher shop, you trusted the butcher to do right by you. We wanted to deliver the same experience to our customers.”

And that was why they opened a fully interactive retail outlet. Instead of explaining to customers on the phone, customers could see the cuts of meat, laid out on a nice Brazilian wood table. Whenever they could, Gabriel or Luis would be there, answering questions and educating customers on the 250+ cuts of meat and the sourcing. Now, in every Meat N’ Bone boutique, there are trained personnel who do this, every day.

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Gabriel, working late at the Meat N’ Bone boutique. Notice the customer seating areas.

Customers took a lot of pictures and made a lot of orders. The hyperlocal concept worked in Miami, and demand for Meat N’ Bone spread nationwide. Shipping premium meats across America came with plenty of risks.

Here’s how they did it.

The Biggest Challenge: Nationwide Shipping

Meat is a surprising delicate product, and shipping meat is a complicated challenge. 

Meat N’ Bone had a commitment to deliver quality meat to their customers – and that meant no frozen meat sitting on shelves for months, like other providers.  All the meat was cut fresh, flash frozen, and shipped straight to customers. This process made a huge difference in providing the best experience to customers.

The biggest risk with shipping was damaging the brand. When operations were in South Florida, they had a retail outlet and their own delivery fleet, and they could control the quality of processes. 

Working with a third-party delivery partner meant there was a risk of delays or meat spoilage that could tarnish the brand and squander the goodwill of custoemrs. The team could also lose that direct relationship with the customer who had come into the store, tried the meat and understood their process.

On top of that, shipping nationwide meant lower margins. Compared to the bigger players, Meat N’ Bone operated on slim margins. It was high-risk for limited reward. That said, the team believed shipping was the way forward to grow their business, so they did it anyway.

 

When you’re starting out, you’re afraid to make the wrong move…

The first few months were tough. Shipping is about scale, and the team hadn’t yet built up the volume of orders yet. They figured out a way to ship the meat and retain the quality. But as the holiday season rolled in, business started to grow. 

“It was a great thing we took the risk,” explained Gabriel. Demand surged during their first Christmas, and they managed to keep the quality up and delight customers. They opened a corporate account with UPS and started shipping nationwide in 48 hours. 

Just 12 months later, they opened their second store in Coral Springs, Florida. 

The Covid-19 lockdown actually gave their business a big boost, as people preferred to order online.  Suddenly, consumers were buying more meat online than ever before. Demand was high, and sales were fast – but Meat N’ Bone was able to cope with the surge in business, because of their values of great customer service and quality products.

Their focus on delivering the best products meant that they invested time in building a great supply chain — a supply chain that would turn out to be their biggest growth driver.

Biggest Growth Driver: Great Product, Great Supply Chain

From the start, Gabriel, Luis and German knew they needed scale to disrupt the industry. They had built their supply chain to be able to cope with increased demand. So when sales surged during the holiday or in early 2020, Meat N’ Bone were ready to grow its customer base. 

We could raise our production 10x. So demand grew, when our marketing reached more people, we were able to deliver. 

“We believed that people wanted to buy meat the way they used to – you tell the butcher, he gives you the cuts – but in a new way, online, all in one place. And we made sure that when someone landed on our webpage, they saw a picture of what they wanted to buy, and they got good quality meat.”

“Because margins are slim, most beef vendors focus on volume, at the cost of quality and consistency,” reveals Gabriel. “They also use buzzwords and labels like ‘pasture-raised’, which actually don’t mean anything.”

Meat N’ Bone set out to go the opposite way: no buzzwords, no marketing terms. Instead, they spent the time to share insider knowledge with their customers on the Meat N’ Bone blog. They wanted to give consumers clear choices – and have consumers trust them, like their own personal butcher.
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From the Meat N’ Bone blog: A guide to wagyu grades

Marketing Meat N’ Bone was difficult at the start. Luis, in another interview, noted the difficulty of building a young brand to compete against industry giants. “Their budget for local marketing for one day is bigger than our whole operating budget for a year!” 

Choosing to serve quality cuts of meat – instead of serving the mass market – paid off for them.

In terms of conversion, Search is our best channel

Gabriel shared that SEO was a big part of their marketing strategy. Customers looking for premium or specific cuts of meat, after going to a steakhouse or following a recipe, would often find their way to Meat N’ Bone’s online selection.

On top of SEO, Google Ads, and Display Network, Gabriel also makes use of social media marketing and influencer and PR strategies. “Our social media has a high level of engagement, and we’ve built up a good audience base that helps us find great look-alike audiences.”

As to customer loyalty solutions — surprisingly, Gabriel said, they tried it and it didn’t work. “Perhaps it was too early.”

Loyalty vs Referrals – “ReferralCandy for us is amazing.”

Today, Meat N’ Bone has over 14,000 customers from cities all over the United States. They also have an incredible customer retention rate of over 65% over 30 days. Surprisingly, what’s helped was not a loyalty program – but a referral program. 

“About a year ago, we were in the market for a loyalty program, but we were too early. too early.” Gabriel reflects that the customers had not reached the stage of maturity yet.

“Less than 1% of our users used our loyalty program. What we found was that we gained customer trust based on their purchases – not loyalty rewards.” Gabriel ran the loyalty program for months before shutting it down. 

“What we really wanted was engagement with our customers. You’ve been buying from us for a while, we want you to get something, but also feel proud about buying from us.” The answer turned out to be a referral program. 

Over 70% of the people who are going to buy interact with ReferralCandy – whether it’s pasting the link in chat, or posting on social media, or clicking the link. It really helped us get the word out. 

Gabriel reveals that ReferralCandy is delivering great return-on-investment for Meat N’ Bone right now. “We integrated ReferralCandy everywhere in our eCommerce site, we’re getting high engagement from our users – we’re very happy with it.”

What does Meat N’ Bone mean to Gabriel?

For me, it became a passion, a lifestyle. I wake up and think about Meat N’ Bone – I eat and sleep and think about it. It’s a brand that represents the way we live.”

“It’s become a family of people I work with, people with engagement and passion. Meat N’ Bone is like a twin brother, sometimes I give advice, and sometimes it gives me strength.

“It’s probably the best business I’ve seen in my life — and I’ve worked and consulted for Fortune 500 companies!” Gabriel laughs, but I don’t think he’s joking. Meat N’ Bone has big plans for the future and is already starting to realize its incredible potential.

But there is one drawback though. 

“I think Meat N’ Bone has ruined restaurants for me,” sighs Gabriel. “Because the quality of our meat is so good, I can’t eat in restaurants anymore.”

Finally, Gabriel, Luis, and German have built a business they’d be happy to buy from. 

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Luis, Gabriel (centre) and German

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Darren Foong

Darren Foong

Darren works on Growth at ReferralCandy. He spends too much time reading fiction, performing improv, and doing things that don't scale. One day he hopes to be quite interesting.