One thing we now know: People love venison.
Every fall during hunting season, many small meat plants are swamped with hunters wanting their deer processed. Very often, those plants have retail shops that sell venison sausage and other products made from or with venison.
I’ve bought my share over the years, and along with millions of other Americans, I wish venison could be available more widely.
I say “millions” with confidence, because a recent product trial of venison was quite instructive.
Now, we’ve all endured the endless “for a limited time only” menu additions that fast-food chains are notorious for launching. Most of the time, it’s a play to create a false sense of scarcity, a transparent attempt to get consumers to believe that there are but limited supplies of ground beef, or bacon or some spicy condiment, so better snap up that premium-priced “gourmet” sandwich before they’re gone for good.
In a recent rollout by Arby’s, however, the “limited time only” label was appropriate, because the “We Have the Meats” chain test-marketed a venison sandwich — a “thick-cut venison steak with crispy onions and berry sauce on a toasted roll,” according to a company press release — at a number of restaurants in areas of the country where deer hunting is popular, namely, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Georgia.
· In Tennessee, an Arby’s store, in Nashville the first in the country to offer the special item, sold out of the venison sandwiches on the first day, effectively ending the promotion that had been scheduled to continue through Nov. 3, according to The Tennesseean.
· In Michigan, according to CBSNews.com, four restaurants in the “popular hunting markets” in Birch Run, Plainwell, Cedar Springs and Clio, were allotted 120 sandwiches on a Saturday, but all four stores ran out by 11 am, with one store selling out in the first 30 minutes.
· In Pennsylvania, a Pittsburgh-area 20-something took to Craigslist after his dad bought him one of the venison sandwiches to post the following ad: “Up for sale is a Limited Edition Arby’s Venison Sandwich. Sold out everywhere!!! Currently in sitting in my refrigerator. Also comes with Arby’s sauce and their Horseradish sauce in the bag. Does not come with fries. Don’t miss out on this rare delight! You might never get a chance again!!!” The price? $500.
I’m guessing that if got any inquiries, they started by asking, what’s your actual asking price.
A unique product
Other than the novelty, since most of us aren’t out in the woods in our tree stand waiting for that trophy buck to wander by, nor are we in a position to cruise over to a nearby mon ’n pop meat shop to stock up on venison products, what would a venison sandwich [rove so popular?
Well, I’ve already engaged what all movies scripts contain: foreshadowing. When there is a genuine perception of scarcity, we consumers tend to go crazy.
Maybe not $500-bucks-a-pop crazy, but we get all fired up with abnormal enthusiasm to obtain a product perceived to be in truly short supply.
Have you heard about Hatchimals Eggs? Those toys join a long line of Christmas must-buys that people are willing to fork over hundreds of dollars to obtain after they sell out at most major retailers.
It’s all about supply and demand: Lots of the latter, limited availability of the former.
In addition, venison is arguably one of the most nutritious foods around.
“It’s a natural food source — probably the best one,” said Kip Padgelek, owner of Kip’s Deer Processing in Carnegie, Pa., was quoted in a Pittsburgh Press-Gazette story about the popularity of venison. And indeed, venison is high in protein and relatively low in fat and calories.
“And it has its own unique taste,” added Darrell Shaffer, owner of Shaffer Venison Farms in Herndon, Pa.
Of course, there’s a big problem with Arby’s or anyone else deciding to make venison a regular menuboard feature, and that’s the emergence of Chronic Wasting Disease, which has affected deer populations across the Midwest. Most of the venison sold commercially at foodservice tends to be imported product, primarily from New Zealand.
But as anyone who’s spent more than a few evenings cruising the back roads of rural areas in many states, deer are not only well-adapted to the climate, topography and vegetation of the northern USA< they’re positively thriving.
And I find interesting that virtually all of the arguments lodged against beef and pork don’t apply to venison (or buffalo, antelope of other game meats).
It’s natural, local, organic and outside of any corporate control.
Too bad that it truly is available for a limited time only.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and columnist.