That Bison Burger Just Got Pricier Thanks to Canada Ranchers

  • Demand for grass-fed bison meat and burgers rising in the U.S.
  • Ranchers holding back animals to expand amid high prices
Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

That pricey bison burger just got more expensive.

Ground-bison prices have climbed to record highs as ranchers in Canada are holding back more animals to expand their herds and take advantage of a growing appetite for the grass-fed meat. The cost stayed at an all-time high of C$23.93 ($17.94) per kilogram in November, after reaching the peak a month earlier. Prices were up 41 percent from a year earlier and almost double the price of a kilogram of ground beef, according to Canada’s agriculture ministry.

“With current prices, retention will continue and that will certainly aggravate the supply problem,” said Terry Kremeniuk, executive director of the Regina, Saskatchewan-based Canadian Bison Association.

Bison prices have been rallying as demand for the niche product is rising among U.S. consumers amid a favorable exchange rate and as more people seek out organic foods and healthy alternative proteins. The grass-fed meat has fewer calories, less cholesterol and fat than beef, and the animals are raised without hormones or antibiotics.

As demand gains, Canada’s ranchers are becoming more reluctant to send animals to slaughter, and instead are holding them back in favor of herd expansion. As a result, fewer bison are being exported for processing in the U.S., Canada’s biggest market, and domestic production probably fell 25 percent in 2016 from a year earlier to 10,500 animals, Kremeniuk said.

Prices Triple

Prices for the ground meat have more than tripled in the past five years and risen from as low as C$16 a kilogram earlier this year, Agriculture and Agri-Food data show. By comparison, retail ground-beef in the U.S. is down 15 percent from a record reached in February 2015 as American cattle ranchers expanded their herd after a prolonged Texas drought. Chicken and pork have also fallen in 2016 amid a glut of meat. Wholesale-pork prices have tumbled 15 percent since this year’s peak in July.

“Bison burgers or ground bison is a favorite in many recipes and restaurants, and we’re seeing a lot of people interested,” said Roger Van Haren, a rancher who has 100 bison north of Red Deer, Alberta. “It’s something a lot of people are trying out and they don’t mind splurging a few extra dollars.”

Bison slaughter and exports are poised to decline further as producers hold on to their young heifer calves that would normally be sold off, Van Haren said. Last year, Van Haren held back 40 percent of the heifers he would normally send to slaughter and plans to continue doing that to grow his herd to about 500 cows.

Bull calves are selling for as much as $6 a pound, which can net ranchers more than $1,000 a head, or more than five times what a beef producer might sell an animal for, Van Haren said. It will take ranchers several years to expand the herd and prices will probably remain strong until supplies start to expand, he said.

“Profits are great,” he said. “Ground bison is driving that price.”

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