What Lebovich wanted was for PRE Brands “to be a consumer-centric business in an industry that is pretty much supply-centric,” he added.
An investment banker by background, Lebovich got pulled into the meat industry when his college roommate’s family, owner of one of Chicago’s oldest meat companies, asked him for help to expand the company.
“What I realized is that the meat industry is really designed to take what farmers and ranchers produce and sell them—it’s a proactive effort to push whatever product is available on the market and try to find customers or consumers to buy it,” he said.
If a meat business were to operate in the reverse order, which Lebovich argued was the way most other consumer product industries operate, “I knew that it gets you to a very different place if you operate that way.” So he left this meat company to start a different one from scratch.
From data to product to a curated supply chain
Established in 2012 with its first product launches in 2015, PRE Brands has no plant, no farm. Instead, it recently opened a sleek new office in Chicago’s River North district. With its brick walls, exposed ceiling, open plan layout, and modern furniture, the company has more of the trappings of a data and tech company than a packaged meat one. But data is PRE Brands’ differentiator, Lebovich said.
“The model is that we [use] qualitative data, quantitative data, and get as much insight on the consumer as possible,” he said. “And then we build the products that reflect our understanding of that need, and then we create a supply chain from farm all the way to us that is able to deliver on that need on scale.”
Currently on the market are PRE Brands’ Ribeye Steak, Strip Steak, Sirloin Steak, Filet Mignon Steak, 85% Lean Ground beef, 92% Lean Ground Beef, 95% Lean Ground Beef, and a Chuck Roast. All of the products are made from grass-fed and pasture-raised cows not given hormones or antibiotics, the most popular callouts in the meat category, according to Nielsen data.
In fact, the name PRE refers to the Latin prefix indicating ‘before’ or ‘prior to,’ an ode to going back to the basics in food processing. “While grass-fed has a lot of buzz, what it represents is short-hand for better-for-you, better for the animal, and what we’re looking to be is the highest quality grass-fed beef out there,” Lebovich said.
Promising trajectory in online meat purchases
The company’s products bring a ‘curated’ feel, because the meat is sourced specifically from suppliers (mostly in Australia and New Zealand) that meet PRE Brands’ stringent criteria. “We want to go to those places that produce lots of supply, so we can perform our curation methods to that big supply and choose the top 10%,” Lebovich said. “We’re probably their most difficult customer.”
And the sense of personalization is key to win today’s customer, who tends to frown upon the mass-produced, one-size-fits-all image, he added. It helps that phrases such as “obsessively curated,” used in PRE Brands’ marketing material, fare well in search engine algorithms (AmazonFresh is one of PRE Brands’ most thriving sales channels).
“We really had no idea what to expect when we launched in Amazon—but the growth has been phenomenal,” he said. “We started with one distribution channel to now being in 10 different distribution centers across the country.
“Pretty much every week, the orders have been larger. The one thing Amazon did say to us, as fast as they are growing, we’re growing faster in every single market we’re in.”
The brand is also growing in brick-and-mortar, starting out in Midwestern retailers like Treasure Island, Mariano’s, and Meijer, to now more than 500 natural channel stores in 20 states.
Lebovich envisions that PRE Brands can grow beyond beef. He said: “The business was designed from the beginning to be a consumer-based platform focused on perishables, and we figured if we were to address beef first, that would be the hardest problem solved, and then we can go into other categories.”