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John Gilchrist | Photo: Joey Podlubny | Aug.03.2012
Mike Rae knows that if you’re going to buy huge quantities of meat to sell directly to consumers, you need both cold storage and a warm manner.
Mike Rae has the biggest refrigerator I’ve ever seen. He says the fridge part alone is big enough to hold seven tractor-trailer loads of cooled foods. And the freezer? It packs in 26 trailers’ worth of frozen meats, seafoods and a wealth of other food products. It’s immense and it’s cold.
Rae spends a lot of time in his refrigerator and doesn’t seem to feel the cold. He strolls the aisles, pointing out stacks of frozen meat: thick-cut rib eyes, Prime rib roasts from Spring Creek Ranch, antibiotic-free pork tenderloin, Alberta lamb and elk and on and on. Each piece has been vacuum-packed and flash frozen. His freezer holds a mountain of meat.
Rae is the president of Consumer Direct Meats, a business that, as the name says, sells high-quality frozen meat directly to the consumer. Rae’s business is a spin-off of another meaty enterprise his father Dave started in 1989. Called AIMEX, that business wholesales frozen foods to large food distributors, caterers and food-service outlets across Canada, throughout the U.S. and as far away as Mexico and Japan. AIMEX shares the huge refrigerator with Consumer Direct.
Both businesses are a natural extension for the Raes. Mike has been involved in the meat-processing industry all his life. He was born and raised in Medicine Hat where his father worked for Burns Meats. The family came to Calgary when Dave moved on to Centennial Meats. He later worked for Cargill before founding AIMEX.
Mike took a slightly different route to his meaty legacy. It all began when he landed a summer job at Bouvry Exports’ Fort Macleod horse-processing plant as a 15-year-old. From there, he came north to Cargill in High River to become a trainer and supervisor. It was while he was at Cargill that his father started AIMEX. Mike started working for him part time and came on full time in 1995.
Over the next 15 years, the Raes satisfied many clients with the quality and value of their products. But one question remained: “Is it possible for consumers to access high-quality, frozen meats at the same price as food-service professionals?”
Mike thought the answer was a simple “yes,” so he took a page from the book of American frozen-meat giants like Omaha Steaks and Allen Brothers, who have been selling top-quality frozen meats to consumers for decades. That concept has never been huge in Canada, but the cost savings for individual consumers can be significant. And the quality is high; when thawed, meat that has been flash-frozen and vacuum-packed is virtually indistinguishable from fresh.
Rae aims high, sourcing a number of organic and naturally raised meats in addition to AAA and Canada Prime beef. Having an import-export licence allows Rae to purchase from American contacts, but he points out that all his American beef is fed grain and grass (no corn) and it’s all clearly labelled as American.
But most of Consumer Direct’s meats are procured locally. Knowing the industry allows Rae to speculate on where prices are going and to buy in bulk when meat is cheap. He ages the beef a minimum of 28 days before having it cut, vacuum-packed and frozen. Then it rests in his huge refrigerator, waiting for its day on the barbecue.
4816 52nd St. S.E., 403-262-4017, consumerdirectmeats.ca.
Source: Swerve Calgary