After tasting First Light's grass-fed wagu beef sausages, Good magazine made a special visit to First Light in the Hawke's Bay – they are that good. So it is no surprise to Good that First Light have just name-checked, by Forbes, who are calling their product the “best beef in the world.”
First Light founders Gerard Hickey, Jason Ross and Greg Evans started their company in 2003, “to produce tender, juicy, healthy meat” and they wanted to do it while sticking to their values, namely; integrity and humility; respect for animals and the environment; innovation; profitable and sustainable returns for all; and to be happy. It’s probably fair to say they’ve stuck to those values.
All First Light’s animals are 100 per cent grass-fed on free-range pastures and as further validation of their commitment to animal welfare, they’ve recently been awarded with the internationally recognised Certified Humane status – the first New Zealand company to have received this accreditation. Certified Humane® is a recognised global animal welfare standard administered by Humane Farm Animal Care, the US’s leading non-profit certification organisation dedicated to improving the lives of farm animals in food production, from birth to slaughter.
The meat journey for First Light started with pasture-raised venison and then the innovation value came into play when the company basically invented 100 per cent grass-fed wagyu beef – which, traditionally, has always been grain-fed and thought of as a premium product, with the price tag to match.
“Fundamentally, we don’t believe in keeping cows in cages,” says Ross. “The thing is with grass-fed beef is it’s notoriously inconsistent. We hunted for years to find the sort of common denominator that might fix it and it was marbling. So we went and found wagyu which is the most marbled and we said how do we grow this on grass? And the whole world said ‘you can’t do it’, the Japanese said ‘it’s never been done, you can’t do it’. Yeah, it turns out [those cows] quite like walking round outside the cage, eating grass, with sun on their backs. Just because no one had done it, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.”
And the proof is in the prizes – First Light 100 per cent grass-fed wagyu has claimed two gold medals: the World Steak Challenge in London; and the Steak of Origin competition in New Zealand.
The company’s products also carry the Non-GMO Project seal, which is an independent verification that guarantees all First Light cattle are raised on a diet that is free from genetically modified organisms or crops. Plus, First Light wagyu cattle are raised without the use of antibiotics or added growth hormones, and no additives are used in their products, including nitrate, nitrites or gluten. This extends to their new range of sausages.
With a co-operative of farmers from all over New Zealand, the First Light family is a group of like-minded people with a shared set of values, the most important of which is producing beautiful meat.