Blue Apron buys Marin’s BN Ranch by meats pioneer Bill Niman

Marin County responsibly raised meats pioneer Bill Niman with some of the livestock at BN Ranch, which was sold to customer Blue Apron in 2017. (BNRANCH.COM)

GARY QUACKENBUSH,

FOR NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

Sustainable meat industry pioneer Bill Niman, known for beef, lamb and poultry responsibly raised using humane, pasture-centric practices, has sold his BN Ranch brand to Blue Apron, a fast-growing meals-to-the-home startup that is building a huge North Bay hub.

This is Blue Apron’s first venture in owning one of its meat suppliers.

Established in 2012, Blue Apron ships meal kits to some 8 million subscribers a month. The boxes come already portioned with original recipes, fresh ingredients and the know-how to prepare home-cooked meals (cook.ba/vision and blueapron.com).

“I’ve worked with Blue Apron for about two years and witnessed first-hand their deep commitment to providing the highest quality wholesome meat and poultry to its customers,” according to a statement released when the sale was announced on March 22. “I’m excited to be joining a growing company that’s positioned to truly change the way animals are raised for food.”

As part of the Blue Apron management team, Niman retains the title of president and founder of BN Ranch. In his new role he will help the company further develop its animal welfare and husbandry standards for beef, pork and poultry. He also will be actively involved with breeding programs where calves are grass-fed and grass-finished, while assisting in the expansion of Blue Apron’s network of farmers, ranchers and suppliers, according to the announcement.

“Bill shares our philosophy that high animal welfare and food quality go hand in hand,” said Matt Wadiak, co-founder and chief operating officer of Blue Apron. “By acquiring BN Ranch and bringing Bill onto our team, we are furthering our vision of making responsibly raised meat accessible to home chefs across the country.”

Over the years, the Nimans became globally recognized as advocates of animal welfare standards and humane treatment policies. The sustainable practices established by Bill and Nicolette Hahn Niman include breeding animals to thrive on natural forage, raising them entirely on grass and employing expert herders.

“We believe that responsible animal husbandry driven by nature and combined with attentive land stewardship are crucial in the pursuit of building healthy, responsible, environmentally regenerative food systems,” according to the BNRanch.com website.

This is the second time a Niman-branded operation has been acquired. In 2005, the Nimans sold Niman Ranch, the first enterprise they started in 1970, to Natural Food Holdings. The Souix City, Iowa, company was bought by Perdue Farms of Salisbury, Md., in 2015.

In 2007, the Nimans founded their flagship BN Ranch, located in Bolinas, a community on the Marin County coast about 15 miles from San Francisco. This area is known for its fresh ocean breezes, year-round green pastures and abundant sunshine ideally suited for raising grass-fed beef and other livestock. The same climate conditions — enabling grass to grow year-round — are found at some 20 farms in California and New Zealand affiliated with BN Ranch.

In addition to providing meat for Blue Apron menus, BN Ranch will continue to supply its current retail, institutional and restaurant customers. At the same time, Blue Apron will be supported by its own supply chain that includes more than 100 family-owned farms as well as by the BN Ranch staff of experts.

Blue Apron is the largest firm in the rapidly growing meal-kit service industry, valued last fall at $1.5 billion. BN Ranch grass-fed beef has been part of Blue Apron’s weekly menus since 2015, with products such as lamb and free-range turkey to be added in coming months.

Headquartered in New York City, Blue Apron continues to expand its nationwide food distribution center network. In February it announced the lease of a 430,500-square-foot warehouse in the Gateway80 Business Park in the Cordelia area south of Fairfield off Interstate 80. This warehouse is expected to be completed next year, employing up to 1,000 workers.

The firm also recently opened a 495,000 square feet of space in Linden, N.J. These two new locations will join Blue Apron’s existing hubs in Jersey City, N.J.; Arlington, Texas; and Richmond in the East Bay.