Eric Christensen ’94 remembers sitting in a marketing class at Simpson College in the fall of 1991. He still thinks about a question his professor posed to the students in the room.
Professor Mark Green challenged them to think about whether they’d want to sell a commodity or a “differentiated product” – the idea that a business will succeed when a quality good has a compelling and persuasive story attached to the brand. It’s about letting customers know what makes you stand out from the competition.
“And I remember that his class started me thinking,” Christensen said, “how are we going to do that?”
After graduating from Simpson, Christensen spent three years working for the Alpha Tau Omega National Fraternity. While it was an exciting job right out of college, he admits that he instinctively knew where he would hang his hat one day. "In my heart, I was always going to come back to our operation,” he said.
Christensen returned to his family’s cattle ranch and farm in eastern Colorado in 1997.
Edward R. Christensen, Eric’s grandfather, started the ranch in 1923. The Christensen Ranch raises Red Angus cattle and the website promotes their beef as pasture-raised, antibiotic and growth hormone-free. Displayed on the landing page is their mission statement, “We believe in transparency, from pasture to plate."
When Christensen and his cousin ‘took the reins,’ they wanted to share the story of a four-generation family ranch and their approach to land conservation, stewardship and caring for the herd.
"These are food animals; they're not pets," he said. "But we also have to take care of them and treat them with the respect and care they deserve."
In the last 20 years, the online marketplace has exploded, and so has the opportunity to sell directly to consumers. “We asked ourselves how do we take this product that we produce and go from being in the cattle business to being in the food business,” Christensen said.
So, while the commodity is beef, the Christensen Ranch is the brand. The story of the people who live there, work the land, and raise and handle the cattle provide what Professor Green would call a “differential advantage” in a crowded marketplace.
“And the fact that we’ve been doing it in the same location for nearly 100 years,” Christensen said, “that's one of the best parts."
Story first appeared in the spring 2021 issue of The Simpson Magazine