Claire Herminjard, Mindful Meats, Woman Entrepreneur

I started investing in the food space six years ago.  We all know how the food space has not only exploded but has changed dramatically since then.  My investments cover one end to the other although certainly some areas I have opted against investing because I am not so sure I believe in their scaleability.  As a whole I am interested in the space and the changes that will take place over the next decade and how each piece connects with the other.  I continue to meet and talk to "food entrepreneurs" and that label covers the gamut.  When I was introduced to Claire I was happy to hear about what she is doing.  After we spoke I became more fascinated.  Mindful Meats brings non-GMO, grass-fed organic meat to market and this is something that more consumers want access to.

Claire grew up in North Carolina.  Her father is Swiss and her mother is American.  Her father picked her Mom up hitchhiking in Switzerland, they spent the next decade together in Europe.  When Claire was two her parents divorced and her Mom returned, with Claire in tow, to the states.  Her Mother taught french in the public school system eventually working with academically privileged kids in under-served communities. Now she teaches international baccalaureate french and english.  Her father is an electrical engineer.  Her step-father has done editing for the audubon society, written books on bird watching and works in the family publishing business to fund his real love, bird-watching. 

Claire traveled mostly around North Carolina exploring her own backyard as a kid but did take one journey out to Carmel, CA at 10 where her uncle ran the naval base.  It was then that she fell in love with California.  After graduating high school Claire went to Duke where she majored in public policy studies.  She was interested in the decisions made around governance in regards to our lives and resources.  Moral leadership and social entrepreneurship ended up being her policy major.  Claire chose not to go abroad because she co-founded the Duke Notes Court.  This organization creates competitions for high school students to come to Duke and debate constitutional law.  She ran the organization her junior year.  Her second semester her junior year Claire was given an opportunity to live in NYC attending the NY leadership in the arts program.  Fifteen Duke students attend and spent time working on ethics and how they relate to aesthetics.  It was a total immersion in the arts of NYC.  The head of the Opera and the head of education at the MOMA puts them in situations where they had to figure out exactly how to respond.  It was life changing.

After graduating from Duke, Claire evaluated three paths.  Microfinancing for women businesses in under developed countries, going to NYC to work in the arts or following her boyfriend to SF who just got accepted into a program.  No surprises, she followed the boyfriend.  I laughed out loud because the number of women I meet tell the exact same story.  She loved CA and had a desire to become a social entrepreneur with a bend towards domestic issues as she wanted to make a change. 

Claire never thought she'd work in technology but ended up taking a job at while doing volunteering on the side.  It was a great experience as the company was going through such growth.  She really liked their one model where the company would give back to the community.  Funny enough she ended up in sales.  She didn't expect to be good at it but she was great at the organizational process.  I am a big believer that sales is one of the keys to life.  Claire became obsessed with data and data management.  She knew that she did not want to be a career sales person so she stayed a few years hoping to move into global marketing in another start-up.  She also had an inner burning desire to get back to her original interest; social entrepreneurship.

Her next gig was at, a demographic targeting technology that partnered with platforms that generated product user data.  She joined at the fifth employee in Biz Development and Sales.  She ran their customer development.  They had amazing investors so it was really interesting being part of the start-up process.  They had taken money two times from angels until they pivoted into becoming an enterprise software business.  She was offered founders status.  The company was going to do a third round of capital but they realized through the evaluations process it made more sense to sell…and so they did. 

On the side Claire had begun to look into the food space.  She had some great offers in the tech space but wasn't willing to commit to a few more years before she figured out exactly what made sense for her next move.  Her policy and data obsession took over and she began to do lots of research in the connection between global research, food production and climate change.  Agricultural is one of our major wastes.  Livestock production has been tied to antibiotic use.  On the other hand the impact on global health is surrounding the desire to have more non-GMO, organic products.  This has taken an interesting crossover in the livestock business. 

Our livestock consumes over 80% of the grains that we grow in the United States.  Of the GMO crops, 98% grown goes to livestock consumption.  Claire decided based on all the information she was reading that she was going to start a meat company.  Mindful Meats was born.  On the intellectual side, she thought about how do you grow these products, why do we allow our livestock to consume antibiotics and what are the major long term implications eating those meats.  She began to do volunteer work on farms.  She did a butchering internship at a restaurant and also worked on a chicken farm.  She wanted to become attached to the product before starting her business endeavor.

The beginning thought was aroud the whole farm to table concept.  How do make a raw product and get it to the consumer.  Where could she create value in the meat chain?  Claire did her own feasibility around meat production.  The process had become incredibly commoditized.  She wanted to run a production facility but be true to her desire to get organic meat.  Putting on her technology hat she began to do more research.  We harvest 36 million cows a year and in turn that is a $79 billion business.  From a sustainability side she began to look at dairy cows.  The USDA sites that between 9-15% of our beef in the US comes from the dairy industry.  These animals product cheese, milk and butter and beef before they are sold to market for beef production.  The second largest category of dairy cows are organic cows.  Most of those dairy cows just go into regular production.  If you can lock down those organic dairy cows and separate them into an organic production facility then there is a business to be had.  Claire found a niche that nobody was really going after. 

She started working with a non-GMO organic producer in Northern California and started buying organic dairy cows as they were coming on the market to go to production.  She began to distribute that beef under Mindful Meats to restaurants and a few small grocery stores in the area.  They have some of the largest organic distributors calling them.  They are running a green facility and are non-GMO organic certified.  Claire is even working on public policy around this area.  What she is doing it making an impact in the livestock area.  It is giving consumers a choice. The hope is that one day she will have a Mindful Meats ranch that grows the cattle that produces cheese, butter, milk and meats that are totally organic.  This is really big picture thinking.  I admit, I am kind of obsessed. 

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Comments (Archived):

  1. pixiedust8

    Interesting. I don’t eat beef, but I think there’s a need for this. Is humane slaughtering part of the business? I didn’t see anything about that on the website, and I think that’s also very important to people who are anti-factory farming.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Good question. Dont know but aasume so

    2. awaldstein

      I’m with you.Is there really such a thing as humane slaughtering? I’m sure you’ll say yes. I’m sure it won’t feel like it objectively.

      1. pixiedust8

        Obviously, slaughtering isn’t humane by nature, but the factory farms seem to operate in a particularly inhumane way.

        1. awaldstein

          No question.

    3. Claire Herminjard

      Hi All, Claire here. Thanks so much for comments (and thank you, Joanne!). We use a certified organic harvest facility that is recommended by the Animal Welfare Approved organization. They are a small facility that custom processes (in the industry, this means will do small and medium size processing to the specifications of the small/med size livestock producer / handler). We mention that on our site, but it is admittedly a little buried –… – We are working on a site that is easier to read and to find info. Hope that helps. Thank you so much!

  2. JLM

    .The beef supply in the US and its quality is a fertile area for consideration, concern and improvement.Not to put too fine a point on things but “non-GMO” and “organic” are not the same thing.Consumers will pay to know from whence their beef comes.Dairy cows are inherently sickly beasts because of their close proximity to each other in the milking process, the intrusion of much touching of hands and equipment in the milking process and their relatively longer life cycle v say a traditional cow-calf operation.Dairy cows require more than a bit of doctoring and medicines to keep them healthy.What is not clear is how does “non-GMO” and “organic” correlate with medical treatment including hormone based treatment.Remember one thing — pasture raised cattle for some considerable portion of their lives is the norm not the exception.It is the intrusion of the feedlot which details this natural path to organic beef.JLM.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Interesting. I wonder if the government labels a dairy cow organic what does that mean in terms of what rules to follow on the farm

      1. JLM

        .Not to dive too deep but cows typically live 18-22 years and dairy cows are typically milked for up to 15 years.Cows, like humans, get sick and they are vaccinated against certain illnesses as a routine part of their treatment.Cows have unusual diseases such as Johne’s Disease, foot rot, common colds, parasites, eye infections/cancer, mastitis and other “normal” maladies.All these diseases are treated with medicines and hormone therapy.A classification as “organic” typically implies that cows have been fed only organic feeds — pasture grass and grains.Grains are natural and very high in protein thus their attraction. When done in a feedlot, it is a nasty piece of business.To me “grass fed” and the age of the cow and the breed is a better distinction than simply organic.Remember one thing about cows — they live, breed and eat where they crap. They are inherently nasty animals — only from the hygiene perspective that this implies.JLM.

        1. Claire Herminjard

          Hey JLM, Thanks for the dialogue. Agreed that conventional dairy system is not a good place for cows – though, nor are feedlots from which most of our US beef cattle go prior to harvest. Our cows do not come from systems like that. Think more like how our grandparents used to do things. Our suppliers have small herds, all of the cows are out on pasture all the time (exception heavy rains and milkings). Their health is monitored closely. All suppliers have systems in place to avoid the issues you mention – mainly, unlike large dairies, our ladies are not in situations of heavy and constant manure exposure. For our suppliers to sell a cow as organic requires that they raise their cows under the same standards as organic beef cows: zero hormones, antibiotics, parasiticides; pasture and organic feed only and 30% minimum lifetime pasture access (our cows have more, btw). Basically, the certified organic system manages by prevention versus treatment. Also, yes, a cow can live up to 20 years. The avg. age of our cows at harvest is 5 years old. Hope that helps. Thanks so much, Claire

          1. JLM

            .Being from cow country and having a bit of familiarity with the industry from a ranching perspective, I am not particularly squeamish about the doctoring of cows (hormones, antibiotics, parasiticides) when it is based upon normal health issues.Cow-calf operations are as delicate as raising little humans. Little humans require a lot of doctoring.I do not feel like this should disqualify a cow from being considered organic. I would rather have a healthy doctored cow than a sickly organic technical qualification.The notion of being grass fed with a bit of organic grain at times when the grass is light or low in protein is more important to me than anything else.The fact that your cows are 5 years old is also attractive. Breed means as much as age when it comes to beef.The handling of beef after slaughtering (including aging) is as important to taste as anything else.One has never had the best beef until you eat a calf which has never been weaned. Not a BBQ to invite your children to but the best beef ever.JLM.

          2. Claire Herminjard

            Hi JLM, Enjoying the conversation. I hear you re: “Cow-calf operations are as delicate as raising little humans. Little humans require a lot of doctoring. I do not feel like this should disqualify a cow from being considered organic. I would rather have a healthy doctored cow than a sickly organic technical qualification.” To clarify, I shared the requirements for organic, since you asked in one of your first questions. In my experience with my supplying organic farmers, if an animal becomes sick, they treat her/him with the appropriate medicine/treatment. If they use a tool that does not qualify for organic certification, then the animal goes into conventional production (is sold to another dairy, or sent to harvest). Given that, sickly animals aren’t kept in organic production. Baby calves are sensitive but our farmers seem to do well, raising beautiful healthy babies, while adhering to organic standards.So dead-on re: taste – the chefs who buy our product love the rich beef flavor that the age of the animal provides it. Our processor doesn’t have much hanging/aging space, but we are working on that. Such an issue in custom harvest/cut and wrap! Our cows are Holstein-Jersey crosses. We don’t do veal at MM… but are interested in finding ranchers to raise the baby bulls as steer some day. What’s your breed? Thanks!

        2. Claire Herminjard

          PS: the field in that picture is one of our cows’ fields. they were letting the grass grow before baling for silage

  3. Guest

    Hi All, Claire here. Thanks so much for comments (and thank you, Joanne!). We use a certified organic harvest facility that is recommended by the Animal Welfare Approved organization. They are a small facility that custom processes (in the industry, this means will do small and medium size processing to the specifications of the small/med size livestock producer / handler). We mention that on our site, but it is admittedly a little buried –… – We are working on a site that is easier to read and to find info. Hope that helps. Thank you so much!

  4. William Mougayar

    Claire, I love what you are doing. This is needed, and more of it.It’s ironic that “natural” is now the exception whereas it should be the common thing. Natural, pasture raised etc is what it used to be, and I’m glad we’re returning to these good practices.

    1. Claire Herminjard

      Greed re: natureal… Thanks, William!

      1. William Mougayar

        Yesss!My food rules:Good:Natural, wholesome, organic, local, wild, bio-dynamic.Bad:Processed, preserved, unnaturally or tightly farmed, packaged, GM’ed, fried, frozen too long, sugared, salted, travelled too far (except grains)

        1. Claire Herminjard

          Yes! Big Thumbs Up!