Somali Focus Group Report
by Yi Yang; Ohio Cooperative Development Center
Russ Wolford served as the facilitator for the Somalian focus group, which consisted of two meat market owners, one male and one female; a male consumer of halal meats, and a woman who works with Somalian women and is a consumer. The group indicated that goat meat and lamb meat are used interchangeably in their diets, but 85 percent of Somalians would prefer goat meat if a good quality product is available for a reasonable price. They use lamb when goat meat is not available during certain times throughout the year. The Somalians will also substitute halal chicken and beef if lamb and goat meat are not available. They perceive goats as providing leaner meat compared to lambs. When asked about the difference in carcass preference between the meat goat and the dairy goat, they responded that there is only one kind of goat in Somalia. They generally eat the males and use the females for milk production and reproduction of kids.
The Somalis prefer a 35-40 pound carcass because their perception is that carcasses over 40 pounds are from older goats and will lack quality. They believe that 35-40 pounds is a rule-of-thumb range for a trim, tender carcass that will cook fast, but they will use carcasses from 20-40 pounds. The smaller carcasses are usually stuffed and served whole with vegetables at larger family dinners. They prefer a lean, grass-fed carcass to a grain-fed one. Most indicate that they can tell the difference between grain fed and grass fed in the taste and texture of the meat. The group said that the smell of the goat cooking is an indicator of whether it is grain fed or grass fed. The frozen goat meat is mostly imported from New Zealand and Australia and is leaner meat because it is totally grass fed. The meat market owners purchase most of the frozen goat meat from a local Columbus food distributor. The Somalis were very assertive in saying that they prefer fresh goat meat to frozen goat meat if available at a reasonable price. Their biggest meal of the day is the noon meal, especially on the weekends.
Somalians eat goat meat one or two times a day, year-round. When buying goat meat at the market, most people that are feeding families will buy a whole carcass, while individuals will buy 5-6 pounds at a time. The participants estimated that the average consumer eats 60 pounds of goat meat per month. They said there is a preference for certain cuts of the carcass, but the group was divided on what the preferred cuts were. One consumer said he preferred the shoulder and ribs, especially if the meat is being served to others for dinner. The other three participants indicated that the legs are the preferred cut, similar to lamb, and the meat market owners agreed that they sell more legs than any other cut. Consumer preference and cuts with fewer bones constitute the higher price that consumers will pay for a leg of goat meat in the local markets. The desired preparation of the focus group for goat meat is stewing. The Somalians make a goat soup similar to the American chicken noodle soup that they believe improves health and well-being. Most restaurants in the Somalian community will use the frozen goat meat from the local food distributor instead of fresh meat. The main reason is that the frozen product is cheaper and available year-round, with a consistent quality.
There is more to a goat than the meat on a carcass. Livers and kidneys are a desirable breakfast food but are in short supply from Detroit because producers do not take the time to remove them and clean them for consumption. Skins can be harvested from the goats and are shipped to Italy, where they are made into purses and wallets. Organs and entrails are processed into cat and dog foods. The heart and brains are edubke but are not desired by many Somalians as a food source. The focus group said there would be a market for stomachs in Ohio if it were easier to clean them without using chemicals. Cleaning the stomachs without chemicals is a very time-consuming, laborious effort for a low-value product. Somalians are accustomed to feeding their babies goat milk back in Somalia. They now use cow milk because of the limited availability of goat milk in Ohio and the rest of the United States They use goat cheese but do not prefer it over cow cheese. The especially like using goat butter. They indicate that a market for goat butter exists, but the supply available is very limited today.
The birth of a baby is a special tradition in the Muslim faith. Somalians are encouraged to go and get a live goat and sacrifice it to baptize their child. They are killing the goats on the farm by slitting the throat and are dressing the carcass themselves. The group indicated that they have a connection with a producer in Mansfield that provides the goats for these celebrations. The parents of the child go to the farm and select the goat, which is then sacrificed in order to baptize the baby.
The focus group conveyed that there is little difference between the halal and kosher slaughter practices. They will eat kosher meats just as they eat halal meats. The person that cuts the throat of the animal does not have to be a Muslim. They must believe in a religion and be trusted by the Somalian community, but the preference is that someone of the Muslim faith slit the animal’s throat. Somalians will not consume animals that are slaughtered with the same equipment or in the same facility as pork. Even a thorough cleaning of the equipment and facility will satisfy the Somalian population. There is a demand for halal slaughtered beef, chicken, fish and camels in Ohio.
Pricing is a key determinant for the producer as well as the consumer of goat meat. The Somalians are currently paying 80- to 85-cents per pound live weight, or $60 a head, for goats from the Mansfield producer. The focus group identified some average retail prices they would be willing to pay for goat meat. These are average prices so they would be willing to pay a little above and below these prices. They identified $1.99 per pound for frozen goat meat and $2.99 per pound for fresh goat meat. Mecca Market (Asad Ahmed) said that he uses 25-30 goat carcasses a week in fresh product in his operations. He sells to some smaller stores, but most are retail sales to the end consumer. He estimated that 15 percent to 20 percent of retail price is the transportation costs to and from Detroit to obtain the product.
There have been numerous mentions of the Detroit plant that slaughters goats daily. The Somalians talked about the plant briefly. A report later of the visit to the plant and discussion with the general manager is forthcoming. The focus group said that it is very hard to get goats from the Detroit plant from October through January. The Somalians feel that the plant resembles a monopoly because there are very few other outlets for getting fresh goat meat. They feel that they cannot buy the cuts and quality they want when they go to Detroit. They are suspicious that the best carcasses are not in view and are reserved for the local customers in the Detroit area. They feel that they are labeled out-of-towners and are treated unfairly most of the time. The plant gets its supply of goats by the semi load from New Mexico, Texas and Arizona. There are three to four slaughter facilities that the meat market owners have used for product acquisition before but rely on the main slaughter facility, Berry and Sons. The group estimated that Berry kills 200 goats per day in the Detroit plant. There is also a plant in Memphis, Tenn., that the meat market owners have used before, and the plant is still processing goats as far as they know. The Somalians were very enthusiastic and committed to a local supply of goat meat because they are traveling to Detroit two or three times per week to purchase fresh goat carcasses. They would support a processing facility for Ohio goats or a location where they could go to obtain fresh local goat meat year round at a reasonable price. A great demand exists just in the Somalian community in Columbus for Ohio goat producers.