Selling fish in Alaska is like selling sand in Arizona, according to Juneau businessman Bill White. It's high-quality beef that makes Juneau residents reach for their wallets.
"There's a lot of good fishermen out here who have had just about all the fish they can eat," said White, who opened All Natural Northwest Distributors in Juneau last month. "We're happy to supply them with some good steaks."
White and business partner Phil Parsons, a longtime friend in Arizona, provide "natural" beef to Juneau customers.
The beef is produced by the Natural Beef Cattle Company, which Parsons started in 1998. He now owns Nature's Finest Distributors, which distributes natural beef and Alaska salmon.
Cows raised by the company are corn-, grain- and hay-fed, and do not receive antibiotics, steroids or hormones, Parsons said.
Parsons sends 50-pound boxes of packaged, frozen steaks and ground beef to Juneau on Alaska Airlines. White unloads the meat into freezers in his office on Old Dairy Road, which also serves as the office for White's construction company, his "day job," he said.
White then fills the boxes with Alaska salmon and sends them back to Parsons, who sells the fish to health food markets, restaurants and outdoor market vendors in the Phoenix area.
"The seafood market in general is a very strong market here," said Parsons from Arizona. "The market that we are hitting is people that care about the quality and integrity of the product. I've really found a niche down here in people who care more than just about bottom-line price."
The frozen coho fillets that White sends to Parsons sell for about $9.75 a pound in Arizona.
White first talked to Parsons about distributing natural beef in Alaska because he wanted to have an alternative to conventional beef, he said. The USDA allows ranchers to feed cattle pork, chicken and other animal byproducts.
"I started this because I enjoy the quality of the product and the health benefit, and knowing I'm not giving antibiotics and steroids to my kids. ... This gives folks an opportunity to know they're eating good, healthy, clean beef."
White sells a 10-pound case of custom-cut tenderloin steak for $146.88. Bulk ground sirloin sells for $4.37 a pound. He's sold the beef to several restaurants and individuals and hopes to distribute it to local grocery stores in the future.
He's not alone in the market.
Superbear Supermarket in the Mendenhall Mall and Alaskan and Proud in downtown Juneau have offered natural beef to their customers for several years, managers at the markets said.
"It's actually grown in popularity, and more and more people are asking about it," said Kenny Kaplor, manager of the meat department at Super Bear. "(The cows) have a vegetarian diet, and the flavor is excellent."
Super Bear mostly sells ground beef, but because the store cuts its own meat, it can offer its customers all types of cuts.
Rainbow Foods, a natural food market in downtown Juneau, sells organic ground beef for about $7 a pound, said David Ottoson, owner of the store. He also sells frozen bison raised naturally in Idaho.
"I'd certainly consider selling natural beef," said Ottoson. Because the natural label can be so broad, he'd want to know exactly how the cattle were fed and treated.
Christine Schmid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.