UNIVERSITY OF Florida Agricultural Market Research Center
FLORIDA Fact Sheet 96-1
Food and Resource Economics Department September 1996
Marketing Ratite Products
Three ratite species are raised commercially in the United States, namely ostriches, emus and rheas. Ostriches are the most
familiar and their products are easier to market than those -.if : emu and rhea. Commercial ostrich farming started in South
Africa over 150 years ago, thus ostrich products, s-pec: 'iy feathers and hides, have a long marketing history. By contrast,
the commercial farming of emu and rhea is recent and r',rui from these species are rtt.riOpiir to find a place in the market.
PRODUCTS AND PRICES
Not all ostrich products are as easily marketed as its hide and fea3neir Ostrich meat has yet to achieve widespread market
pef'netaion C u- ent ostrich meat is sold only in upscale grocery stores and restaurants as an expensive exotic specialty
Ratite meat is very lean and has the texture and color of beef. It also has less fat and calories than chicken, turkey, beef or
pork. It is high in protein and iron, and may be low in cholesterol. When properly prepared, ostrich meat compares favorably
with beef steak. The prime cuts on an ostrich come from the thigh, where the filet and steak cuts are taken. Less prime cuts,
such as roasts, ground meat and stew meat, are taken from the drumstick. Ratite meat is also processed into products such
as jerky, sausage (such as p-:-c. ron i and luncheon meats similar to ham and pastrami.
In order for ratite meat to compete successfully with chicken, turkey, beef and pork, consumers need to become more 'amil a-
with the product and made aware of the health benefits associated with eating ratite meat. Because fat is not marbled through
ratite meat, the meat is very lean and requires special care in preparat:' r Teaching consumers proper cooking -n rT .- is
essential since overcooking can make the meat very unpalatable.
Ratite meat is quite expensive compared to other readily N 3i;at. e red meats. Ostrich meat is currently .E iin, in excess of
$20 a pound at an upscale grocery store in Orlando and for $30 a plate at a local restaurant. Prices sd er.,:ei.d on the Internet
for US produced ostrich meat range from $13 a pound for prime cuts to $3 a pound for ground meat and from $5 to $20 a
pound for various processed meats. High prices limit rnsump:ion and discourage trial by many consumers.
In order to sell ratite meat outside of the :rate of Florida, the birds must be slaughtered in a Federall' inspected slaughter
house. Currently, there is a slaughter house in the P.irii-r ;le that is certified to slaughter ostriches. Two more slaughter
houses, near Orlando and Ocafa, may soon be ,.:e',rg large numbers of ostriches soon. A major concern when _'ae., i
with slaughter houses is how the ostrich hide is handled. The hide is the most valuable part of the ostrich and if the hides are
mishandled, a large part of the value of the bird can be lost.
Foreign .:umol.~iton from Australia and South Africa does not appear to be a problem at this time. Because of newcastle
disease, South Africa is barred from te poriinri fresh ostrich meat to the US. Australia, .i.e the US, is in the process of
developing its ratie industry and appears to be looking at Asia as a lucrative market.
The hide is the most valuable product from both the ostrich and emu and is prized for its 5'rerg"' and softness. Depending
on how the hides are processed, the leather can be made into a variety of products, including clothing, boots, upholstery and
accessories such as wallets, belts and bags. In the United States, ostrich hide is largely used for making western boots. An
adult ostrich hide averages about 14 square feet and can produce three pairs of boots. Emu leather is 'rrner and finer-
textured than ostrich leather and has a distinctive :.ill--cu'.ed pattern. An adult emu will produce 8 to 12 square feet of leather.
The skin from the legs (leggings) is considered to be very exotic. It is thicker and has a raised pattern similar to crocodile
eatre: It is used to Ii.;r ii2-r other leather products and is also made into accessories such as :.e.t- and watch bands.
LDoCi'esc :-i-riri leather, as advertised on the Internet, ranged from $35 to $40 a square foot, depending on quality. .,':C.-c.irJ
to the United Ratite Ranchers' i-oo:pe::..r,.e, an emu hide commands one-fourth the price of an ostrich hide.
A viable market for US produced ostrich feathers does not exist at this time. Ac::.rrong to the American Ostrich Association,
production and processing costs make the marketing of US ostrich feather economically infeasible. In Africa, ostrich feathers
are clipped at about 6 months of age, harvested at slaughter, ,Lin' P-d into 5 major -dlegor ir-s and then sorted into 12 major
classes. Each class is then further divided by feather grading characteristics. Feather grading includes size, shape, shaft
weight, fatty appearance, luster, density, regular.:y softness, handling and weathering of the feather. Ail trh: can result in more
than 200 classes and grades of feathers offered to a customer (American Ostrich Association Web Page, 1996).
The widespread use of ostrich feathers in the fashion industry in the late 1800s fostered deve'coment of the commercial ostrich
industry in South Africa. The demand for ostrich feathers dropped at the end of the 1800s. This decrease in demand is
attributed to the invention of the .-Lt:rnctiob, which made ostrich-plumed hats impractical. World War I also contributed to the
decline in demand. Today, ostrich feathers have a variety of applications from industry to the entertainment business. Because
of their an:--sl.a!a quality, they are used in auton.ioile, computer and commercial cleaning industries (American Ostrich
Association Web Page, 1996).
Rhea and emu oil is used in cosmetics and as a folk remedy. It is claimed to be a natural analgesic and :-int r. C'i (reduces
hr hir 3J Oil can also be rendered from ostrich fat. Rhea oil is listed for sale on the Internet for $10 per fluid ounce.
Direct Marketing Via The Internet
With the exception of ostrich hides, traditional market channels for other ratite products are not well developed. However, a
relatively new, non-traditional market tool is cjur -rnly being used to promote all types of ratite products. Ratite products from
the US, South Africa, Australia and Canada are presently being advertised on the Internet by way of the World Wide Web.
Educational information on ra;ies, nutrition, recipes and product claims, as in the case of rhea oil, are included in these Web
page adve l senerr rE Advertising via a Web page is a very inexpensive way of r- ri- irg a world-wide audience. Web pages
are easy to obtain and most Internet service providers, such as America On-Line, provide space on their systems for their
subscribers' Web pages. The cost of maintaining a Web page is a function of the amount of space it takes on a provider's hard
disk and the number of times that the Web page is accessed. The potential audience is huge, as anyone with a personal
computer and access to the Internet can read a Web page. CrnLntrles with large numbers of personal computers and easy
Internet access include the US, Canada, Europe and Japan. Consumers most wv ir.g to change their eating habits and
experiment with new foods tend to be more highly educated. These people are also likely to own personal computers.
Although the Internet is an effective way of reaching a large a LJ t.~'-t. it does not guarantee that consumers will buy ratite
products in significant quantities. In the way the Web is set up, potential consumers have to be interested enough in your
product to find your Web page, either in an Internet search or through a link from another Web page. In this respect, the
Internet is more of a passive marketing tool. A cooperative can be a more active marketing tool and can provide logistical
services required to process and distribute ratite products.
Cooperatives can pool the resources of many small producers for more efficient marketing. Cooperatives can establish
slaughter and dr'r.lsabuticn 'aciliiie, ensuring a consistent supply of products, negotiate large contracts with big retailers,
establish u-iui ,Y standards which can be used lu ,ir-ju.iii-l higher prices and hire professionals to promote their products.
In Florida there is one organized cooperative, the United Ratite Ranchers' Cooperative which is based in Crestview, Florida.
Their address is PO Box 1515, Crestview, FL 32536, President: Tommy Carmical
Other Florida ratite qrower organizations include:
Northeast Florida Ostrich Association (American Ostrich Association affiliate), PO Box 566, Orange Sp rings- FL 321 8a' -J 5t
President: Jim Carpenter
"an niar e Association (American Ostrich Association affiliate), PO Box 310, Vernon, FL 32462, President: Glenda Camp
Florida Ratite Association, 17034 Auburndale Lane, S i ir:l ill, FL 34610, President: Ed Armstrong
Florida Emu Association, 3611 Lettuce Lane, New Smryrna Beach, FL 32168, Contact: Glen Carter
North American Rhea Association, 3393 Morning Glory Lane, Laurel Hill, FL 32567, Contact: James Smith
Authors: Stephenie K. Mack and Dr. Robert L. Degner, PO Box 110240, Gainesville, Fl 32611