Sundance Beef goes from global to local

Published on Thu, Nov 13, 2008 by Tara Nelson

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Sundance Beef goes from global to local

By Tara Nelson

John Sheehan’s biggest markets used to be Iraq, Russia, Canada and Mexico. But now his focus is more local.

As owner of international meat trading company Prime West Beef, Sheehan, of Bellingham, carves out a living buying, selling and distributing meat products all over the world.

But with his Sundance Beef meatpacking and distribution company in Ferndale, Sheehan has decided to tap into local markets as he bought Terry’s Farmer’s Market at 3591 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, just west of Birch Bay Square.

Former market owner Terry Smith started selling Sundance Beef meat products last year to add to his line of fresh produce and locally produced goods. Sheehan, however, said that when he saw the market’s viability and the possibilities for “exponential growth” he made an offer to buy.

“We have very similar beliefs about the food we provide,” he said about Smith. “Customers will still get the same farm fresh food as they have grown to expect from both of us, but now it will be all available at one location.”

Sheehan said while he has changed the name to Sundance Market, he will continue to sell many of the same products offered by Terry’s Farmer’s Market and focus on offering locally-produced and wholesome foods.

Local products include ice cream from Edaleen Dairy, milk from Twinbrook Creamery and Jackies Jersey’s, cheeses from Pleasant Valley Farms, Appel Farms and Farmstead, Barb’s Pies, locally harvested honey, eggs and lots of produce.

Other featured items include Beeler’s organic pork products, beef products from Mannings and Harris Ranch, both of California, and poultry products from Petaluma. Sheehan also said he is working on a contract to sell Barlean’s fresh fish on weekends during the summer next year and expanding the store to include a deli.

“We want to showcase everyone in the community that produces this stuff,“ he said. “We want it to be an experience, not just a store.”

A growing niche

As many other businesses are laying off employees or cutting back their operations, Sheehan admits that taking a stand to grow one’s business is bold, but he said he is convinced as the economy worsens, it will be small businesses on Main Street that will pull the country out of a recession. He boasts that the entire staff at the market will be retained and he has hired two additional employees.

“We (the local businesses) are the ones that are going to pull us out of the recession,” he said. “It’s not going to be the General Motors and the Exxons of the world, it’s going to be the small businesses that are going to get us out of this. It’s about people helping people.

“The choice the consumer has is to go to a big box store and buy goods that are commercial, or they can come to a unique shopping experience at the market with a wholesome, natural menu of items.”

Sheehan added that because of low overhead the price of many products can often be lower than at a large supermarket. “I have warehouses in Maryland and California and the freight bills have grown exponentially in the past year and a half,” he said. “So if you’re sourcing your product from Maryland to the Northwest, you’re going to have to build in that extra cost of distribution and transportation to get the product here. Whereas, if you can source it locally, you save on those transportation costs.

“Another factor is the local producers don’t have big factories, so you’re saving in overhead costs as well.”

Sheehan said he is also able to offer below-market deals on proprietary lines of wholesale beef products intended for niche markets through his wholesale distribution company.

“When you turn on the news all you see is doom and gloom and sometimes I have second thoughts but in business you just have to make a plan and go for it; sometimes you have to take a chance,” he said. “The chance we’re taking is to believe in the community and to believe in our great products and focus on providing service and products.”

Other developments

Sheehan’s former retail location has been transformed into a USDA-approved facility to provide wholesale distribution to the food service industry.

He has also rented a warehouse next to the old facility to begin production of his line of raw pet food, Raw Ground Natural Pet Products, which will be sold throughout Canada and the United States. For more information about the raw pet food, visit

Sundance Market is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and is located at 3591 Birch Bay-Lynden Road. They can be reached by calling 366-0224.