Daguin taps market with French menu that features exotic fowl, meats
UNION — A New Jersey purveyor of waterfowl, game and heritage birds and meats is committed to farming with the care associated with her native Gascony, a great gourmet region of France that her chef father reportedly made famous.
Ariane Daguin, founder and CEO of D’Artagnan Foods, believes that the care provided to foods makes a difference in the flavor.
Daguin diversifies her marketing enough that COVID -19 related closings of the 7,000 restaurant clients that supplied 75 percent of her business have been offset by retail store and Internet order increases of as much as 500 percent.
Product demand is shifting with the market — from quail, pheasant and squab to chickens with which they feel more familiar in their own kitchens, Daguin said.
D’Artagnan’s chickens are the heritage Brune Landaise and Barred Rock, or popular Plymouth Rock, birds from Gascony and New England, respectively, grow on 17 Amish farms in Pennsylvania, where they live for 90 to 100 days.
“There is no such thing as a small segment with fancy gourmet products,” Daguin said. “We believe that consumers are more educated, more conscious about how an animal is raised, and they want to know where their food comes from.”
D’Artagnan’s antibiotic-free chickens grow largely in coops that Daguin said open to additional space. Others are rotationally grazed. The latter method, Daguin said, improves the soil health.
Consumers can purchase the chickens air-chilled whereby they sit in a refrigerated room post-processing rather than soak in water. The result, Daguin said, is a more concentrated, less diluted flavor and a weight that doesn’t consist of retained fluid.
D’Artagnan also makes available to consumers USDA Organic varieties, tender, young poussin, or spring chickens, and “Green Circle” chickens with diets supplemented by vegetable scraps, Daguin said.
D’Artagnan farmers obtain the scraps from physically blemished and imperfectly shaped market discards and feed them to the poultry about three times a week, Daguin said.
Some of D’Artagnan’s quail and pheasant farmers have begun raising chickens. Others are growing feed, she said.
“We’re continuing to expand our retail and consumer clients but, when restaurants come back, we want to be there for them,” Daguin said. “It’ll be a couple of years before we get back to where we were before COVID.”
Daguin is from a family of culinary artists. Her father, Andre Daguin, a chef at the Hotel de France in Auch, Gascony who made famous the dish duck l’Orange, according to his 1995 New York Times obituary.
Daguin herself attended Barnard College before working in sales and new business development for a Manhattan charcuterie.
When two representatives of a duck farm in the mid-1980s sought a sales venue for foie gras and Daguin’s boss wasn’t interested, she expressed her own interest — in all of the duck, she said, and for products that include confit, pate and demi glace.
The market potential, Daguin realized, was huge, and so she signed on additional farmers as she did restaurant clients.
Daguin named her business D’Artagnan for the Gascony-born musketeers captain who served under Louis XIV and inspired the young swashbuckling hero whose father was killed there in the Alexandre Dumas novel, “Three Musketeers.”
The company in 2006 added an Internet order option and, by 2013, its New Jersey headquarters, was becoming joined by regional district offices that now include Colorado, Texas, Atlanta and Chicago.
Contracted farmers and ranchers in Texas raise what the D’Artagnan website describes as tender, marbled, low-cholesterol Wagyu cattle, or juicy beef from Kobe, Japan that has been isolated and interbred and for three years gradually fed a variety of cereals, she said.
Because it’s difficult to obtain USDA-inspected slaughtered venison in the United States, Daguin said she works with New Zealand farmers.
The meat is according to the Penn State Extension high in essential amino acids, a rich source of thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, iron, and zinc and a good low-cholesterol saturated fat protein choice for those who suffer from cardiovascular disease.
D’Artagnan’s porcelet, or suckling, piglets are raised for 10 weeks at a Quebec farm on milk that the company website claims is fortified with vitamins and minerals and a carefully balanced fat content.
Daguin said that the milk is maintained at mother’s milk temperature, and the company website claims that it produces the most “succulent pork imaginable, with a unique delicate [and sweet] flavor and pale intramuscular fat that is creamy and firm.”
D’Artagnan farmers and ranchers in Australia allow their Certified Humane grass-fed beef with an Angus lineage to develop their beefy flavor over the course of at least five years, or twice the life of commercial cattle, she said.
The company’s heritage Berkshire pigs live seven to eight months.
“Time is flavor,” Daguin noted. “It’s also money.”
That is one of the reasons that a heritage Green Circle chicken averaging 3.5 pounds sells for $21.99 frozen and an average 12.5-pound fresh heritage pork belly starts at $94.99.
The 70-pound Yorkshire piglets may be priced beginning at $219.99 for an average 10-pound loin, but “the result is very different,” Daguin said. “It’s about the fat. It’s saturated, but it’s so good. Fat is taste. You don’t have to eat the fat, but it’s what gives flavor while the meat is firmer.”
Products such as the cassoulet kit, and recipes on the ‘D’Artagnan website, could assist consumers to expand their culinary expertise the way that Julia Child did when the cookbook author brought cooking classes to television.
The company’s retail segment, with a now 50-percent loss of the restaurant chefs that many depend upon to prepare such dishes, has grown by 35 to 37 percent — mostly with existing clients, Daguin said.
Internet sales In December were up 200 percent, Daguin said.
The compensation wasn’t without effort.
Daguin’s staffers called upon existing American grocery store clients to expand their product purchases.
The company beefed up its e-commerce marketing staff in order to grow, via social media particularly, the number of consumers who can enjoy the company’s locally grown foods while ordering them from the convenience of their living rooms.
“With COVID-19, this one space has grown incredibly. . .,” Daguin said. “Thank God.”
Restaurant clients now comprise 40 percent of D’Artagnan’s total volume, Daguin said.
Wholesale prices tend to be less than retail, but accommodating small orders for individual consumers is also more labor intensive and more costly, she said.
“It’s very difficult to determine how the bottom line is affected,” Daguin said. “We need marketing. We need to consistently put money in there.”
She said D’Artagnan has avoided layoffs and added savings in areas such as logistics as it did during the 2008 recession.
The company’s refrigerated truck now consolidates routes and makes several slaughter drop-offs and pickups during one trip, Daguin said. The company is also considering a move to solar energy, she said.
“At the same time, the next three months are going to be test months.
“Restaurants aren’t reopening until January and February. Consumers consume less during those months than they do during the holidays.”
D’Artagnan meanwhile has “a cash flow, a forecast, a vision,” she said.
“We’re getting through COVID, and we’ll be in a better place when it’s over.”