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Being the Best

After 10 years, family owned and operated Fossil Farms continues to grow its product line of all-natural and farm-raised game meats.

By Alan Dorich
Originally published in Food and Drink magazine in the November/December 2007 issue

all-natural, farm-raised game meats from Fossil Farms
Fossil Farms' meat products are 100 percent natural and free of any added hormones, antibiotics or steriods.

Fossil Farms
2006 Sales: $5 Million+
Headquarters: Oakland, NJ
Employees: 15
Specialty: Meats
Lance Appelbaum, President & CEO: "We've become our customers' own personal butcher, which they tend to like."

(Download printable .pdf version here.)

When it comes to "natural meats," President and CEO Lance Appelbaum says Fossil Farms embodies that term by selling products that are free of any added hormones, antibiotics or steroids. "[Our meat is] 100 percent, authentically natural," he states.

Based in Oakland, N.J., family owned and operated Fossil Farms sells ostrich and wild game meats, including alligator, antelope, buffalo, duck, foie gras and quail. Appelbaum notes that its products are raised on family farms that perform sustainable agriculture.

For instance, Fossil Farms' ostrich meat is from birds raised on its own farm in Andover, N.J., where they are fed organic alfalfa and corn. The ostriches are allowed to roam free until they are 10 to 14 months old, the company says.

That age, Appelbaum explains, yields the most tender and delicious product, which is comparable to beef. "Ostrich has lower fat and cholesterol, so now people don't have to sacrifice the flavor," he adds.

In addition, Fossil Farms' buffalo meat is from bison grown primarily in Canada, and is grass fed and allowed to roam free. "Each carcass is processed under USDA and Canadian inspection, ensuring the highest quality," the company adds.

Brothers in Business
Appelbaum started Fossil Farms with his brother, Todd Appelbaum, in 1997. The two got the idea for the company while on a skiing trip in Colorado.

During the trip, the Appelbaums ate at a restaurant that served farm-raised game meats, including ostrich. "It was absolutely out of this world," he remembers.

Afterward, the brothers explored the idea of starting a business that specialized in game meats to provide consumers a healthy alternative. Ostrich meat, for example, is lower in fat and cholesterol than beef, turkey or chicken, Fossil Farms says.

In addition, ostrich meat contains more protein. "The American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association have both recommended ostrich for its health benefits," the company adds.

When the Appelbaums founded Fossil Farms, they took its name from a nickname for their father, Steven Appelbaum. "We never called our father 'Dad,'" Lance Appelbaum explains. "[Instead,] we called him 'the fossil.'"

After starting the company, Appelbaum and his brother discovered they needed to educate consumers about alternative meat products and their benefits. "It was a challenge for a couple years," Appelbaum remembers. "We used to have to drag people over to our booth [at trade shows]."

Through its promotional efforts, he says, consumers have become more aware and its products have gained popularity. Today, Fossil Farms' clients include Fuddruckers, Sysco Corp., U.S. Foodservice Inc., Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, and Chanterelle Restaurant in New York City.

In addition, several five-star chefs have endorsed Fossil Farms, including those at such New York-based restaurants as Aquavit, Perilla and 21 Club. Appelbaum adds that the company also has been featured in The New York Times and The New Yorker.

This year, Fossil Farms is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Although he has heard horror stories about business partnerships, Appelbaum has felt secure working with his brother at Fossil Farms for the past decade.

Today, Todd Appelbaum oversees the farming aspects of Fossil Farms, while Lance Appelbaum manages the business end. "There's nobody else I would be able to trust in business," he asserts. "I know he has my back, and I have his back."

A Tasty Business
One of Fossil Farms' most popular products is its piedmontese beef, which is derived from a breed of cattle from the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. The animals are farm raised in Montana on a vegetarian feed.

Appelbaum notes that this breed possesses a double muscle characteristic unique among cows. "It makes the meat very, very soft," he says, adding that it also is low in fat and calories, while also possessing an intense beef flavor. "It tastes better than Angus beef."

Fossil Farms' latest additions to its lines include its Berkshire pork products, which include porterhouse steaks, center cut bellies, pre-fabricated ribs and smoked bacon. "We custom cryovac and package [those]," Appelbaum says. "We've become our customers' own personal butchers, which they tend to like."

Fossil Farms also has a new line of gourmet burger products, including a buffalo chipotle burger. "We literally add layers of flavor into the patty," he says, noting that the company stands as "one of the only companies that do these type of items."

Appelbaum adds that Fossil Farms also offers a gourmet sausage line, which adds sweet ingredients to meats that have sweet tastes, as well. "Our best seller is a wild boar sausage with cranberries, and a chiriz wine," he adds.

Growing Strong
A critical factor to Fossil Farms' success is its vertically integrated structure, Appelbaum says. "Basically, we're vertically integrated from our farms right through [to] the distribution," he says, noting that the company not only uses national distributors, but also has its own fleet of refrigerated vans.

"This has benefited us due to the fact that customers understand that we are a farm, and we deliver to them ourselves with our own transportation, or [with] a distributor they prefer," Appelbaum says. "It's the entire package of a quality product, price and the best service, possible.

"It's made [our business] very successful and convenient," he says. In addition, Appelbaum says, the company has enjoyed longevity in its staff, and has nurtured an environment where its employees enjoy their work.

Appelbaum says the company has accomplished this by making sure its employees understand it takes all of them to reach its main goal. "Our best ideas come from our staff," he says.

He notes that he and Todd Appelbaum maintain an "open door policy," allowing any member of its staff to talk to them at any time. "My brother and I were both employees ourselves, at one point in our career, and we remember how that was," Lance Appelbaum says.

"We have fun doing what we're doing," he says. "I think everybody in my company enjoys coming to work, as opposed to having to come to work."

Appelbaum says Fossil Farms plans for small but steady growth, while developing value-added products for the retail market. He notes that its processor, Arctic Foods, has invested in new packaging machines that will "take us into that next level.

"We'll be able to brand our name [on the packaging]," Appelbaum says. "Not only will chefs know who Fossil Farms is, but the actual consumer."

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