If the question of the 1980s was, “Where’s the beef?” — thanks to a particularly memorable ad campaign from U.S. fast food chain Wendy’s — then today’s counterpart is, “Where’s the beef from?” 

And as more people seek to align their purchasing power with their beliefs about ethical and sustainable business practices, the answer to that question, at least in the United States, might disappoint. It did for Michael Salguero when he and his wife were looking for ways to eat healthier. This led them on a journey into the labyrinth of opaque practices and ethical blind spots of the American meat industry. Now as Founder and CEO of B Corp-certified ButcherBox, he is on a mission to mend a broken system.

Seeking something better

Founded in 2015, ButcherBox is a subscription-based service that delivers high-quality, humanely raised and sustainably sourced meat and seafood directly to consumers’ doorsteps across the continental United States. The privately held company has done USD550 million of business to date and is the largest online seller of humanely certified meat.

A successful entrepreneur, Salguero was looking for a passion project before diving into his next big business venture. A healthy eating journey had him seeking out grass-fed beef options and coming up short at his local grocery stores in downtown Boston, so he started buying meat directly from a farmer. Eventually he began to purchase and distribute shares of a whole cow to friends who were equally interested in grass-fed meat but, like him, didn’t have the space to store pounds of frozen beef in their city residences. 

A friend suggested the idea of a home delivery service, so Salguero created ButcherBox as a small-scale venture. Investing USD10,000 of his own money, he launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise awareness and pre-sell subscriptions. The campaign exceeded expectations, raising around USD215,000. 

“It was clear there is a market full of customers who had the same problem I had, which was, ‘I want to eat healthier meat and I want to know that the company raising it cares about the land, the animals and the farmers, but I can’t find it,’” he says. “That’s where we fit in.” 

Salguero had only intended for ButcherBox to be a side project, but its positive reception prompted him to recognize its potential as a viable business venture. 

“I’m a big believer that businesses are a lot like human beings,” Salguero says. “You don’t get to dictate what they want to become. I have three young kids, and my job is to keep them safe and give them guardrails, but they’re going to be who they want to be. It’s the same with the business; ButcherBox wanted to be something much bigger than I had anticipated. I just rose to the occasion and have been building ever since.”

If we’re known as the company that obsesses over all the details so you don’t have to, I think we win. ”
— Michael Salguero, Founder and CEO of ButcherBox share twitter

Tackling the temporary issues

One of ButcherBox’s primary challenges early on was navigating the logistics of shipping frozen meat. Initially, they relied on Styrofoam coolers – obviously, not the most environmentally friendly material. Friends admonished him with, “How dare you!”, but Salguero understood his mission’s long game. 

”You might have to hold your nose in the meantime and make decisions that are not yet perfect,” he explains, “but know that you are moving things in the right direction.” 

Six months after launching, ButcherBox switched to a fully recycled box and has had seven generations of the box, each time finding ways to make it more efficient and recyclable.

Challenging the norms without raising capital 

From the beginning, ButcherBox was carving out its own niche. Its subscription model, which had not been done in the meat industry previously, fostered customer loyalty and gave the company predictable revenue streams – something that was especially key in the early days because unlike his previously entrepreneurial endeavors, Salguero did not want to raise any capital. 

They also relied on a curated model in the early days. While traditional meat purchasing allowed customers to select specific cuts, ButcherBox initially only offered subscribers a selection based on the company’s inventory and management needs. Only three years after launch did they start allowing customers to select their own cuts. Salguero estimates that 80% of their subscribers now do so, but making that decision early controlled costs, eventually allowing them to finance a larger inventory. 

Aligning with B Corp

As Salguero dove deep into the U.S. meat industry, he didn’t like what he saw. 

“Most meat people are eating is bad for the environment, bad for the animal, bad for the farmer, and bad for the workers in the supply chain — the people working at the cutting facilities and slaughterhouses. The ethical wake is so dramatic,” says Salguero. “Ultimately, the customer gets a piece of meat that is less healthy and is not aligned with their values.” 

The company set out to disrupt the industry and offer a better alternative. From prioritizing fair compensation for farmers to ensuring humane treatment of animals, and importing beef from Australia, where grass-fed practices are more in line with the company’s ethos, ButcherBox is constantly working to set new standards. 

“Most meat people are eating is bad for the environment, bad for the animal, bad for the farmer, and bad for the workers in the supply chain — the people working at the cutting facilities and slaughterhouses. The ethical wake is so dramatic. ”
— Michael Salguero share twitter

In 2021, Salguero realized he needed to reassess how he, and the rest of his team, approached ButcherBox’s future. With iconic food brands in the United States – including Tyson, Hershey’s and Campbell’s – all more than 100 years old, he realized creating his typical three-year plans couldn’t truly capture his vision for the company. 

“I decided that we needed to start operating and behaving like we’re going to be around for a long time, like we were going to exist 100 years from now,” he says. 

This led him to formalize their commitments through B Corp certification, which evaluates a company’s social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. 

For Salguero, B Corp certification is more than just a badge of honor; it’s a strategic decision to embed their values into the core of their corporate identity. By maintaining certification, ButcherBox ensures that its commitment to sustainability and ethical practices transcends individual leadership changes and remains integral to its organizational culture.

“With a long-term horizon, a large customer base and no external investors, we’re uniquely positioned to drive change in an industry that desperately needs change,” he says. “We’ve proven to the meat industry there is a huge customer base for this type of product. And we’ve been able to work with small farmers as well as large meat conglomerates to move the industry in a direction where we’re improving conditions for hundreds of thousands of animals every year.”

ButcherBox went through B Corp recertification in 2024, improving their score by 22% — all while tripling the size of the company.

Sustaining success 

In the immediate future, ButcherBox intends to expand its presence to meet customers where they are, whether in retail outlets or restaurants and even a foray into the pet food market with ButcherBoxForPets.com

And a current personal mission for Salguero? Improving worker welfare in the industry. While there are standards in other industries and countries, the U.S. meat industry has no true oversight. 

“It would be very easy for me to source a T-shirt from Bangladesh that is fair trade certified where people have been into the plants and have made sure that the people who made it for me were treated well, paid the living wage,” he says. “But there is no third-party certification agency in the United States that does that for me.” 

Salguero is now pioneering efforts to start a worker welfare third-party certification. This work ties back to Salguero’s ethos and the mission of ButcherBox.

“Since the 1950s, the meat industry has been solely focused on being cheap and food safe. And we obviously care about cheap and safe food, but as a mission-led company, there are all of these other things we value that we are trying to do, and at a scale that has just not been done before,” he says. “But if we’re known as the company that obsesses over all the details so you don’t have to, I think we win.”

B Lab is a strategic partner of YPO. Members who are interested in B Corp Certification are encouraged to join the Sustainable Business Network’s B Corp Certification sub network.