Niman Ranch sells itself as this little family operation run by some guys named Niman when in fact they are a big market aggregator for a number of producers who agree to standards presumably superior to those in the meat industry at large. More power to them, but we don't get much of that in Dallas and I'm not inclined to mail off for it when I'm so happy with the meat I get from some local farms at the Farmers' Market every week. They have really good eggs too.
These branded specialty meat products are all over the place. From the Niman Ranch stuff at Chipotle Grill and your premium grocer, to the obvious crap like the John Morrell precooked pot roast or the "Forever Juicy" spareribs pumped with fifteen percent brine by weight, everyone is seeking to differentiate themselve from meat as a commodity, to represent themselves as having access to an exclusive, protected source.
I know that "Certified Angus" is distinguished by breeding and a certain level of marbling at grading time. I know that Niman Ranch products are widely considered to be quite superior to ordinary pork. I wonder how other chowhounds feel about these and other such premium or specialty meat products from grocery stores, and how such products compare to locally raised and slaughtered meat and poultry. Afaik, you cannot get the locally raised stuff at any big grocers because the producers can't meet the price and supply requirements of the chains. By disposition I am inclined to regard the local product as superior, and my experience bears this out but I am interested in a more diverse and less biased opinion than is available at my house.
I might add that my local providers are not in the "artisanal" category -- it's just chicken, pork, beef, etc and any breeding decisions are not publicized. No "heirloom" or "Wagyu" anything, etc.