I had the good fortune over the last few months to talk with very inspirational people, and you can read about some of their stories in this issue. I consider it a job perk to seek out and talk with inspirational people — particularly when sitting in my office reading news headlines can get discouraging at times.

I spent the better part of a day with Michael Kiolbassa and his team at Kiolbassa Provision in San Antonio, Texas. I knew first-hand that the company’s sausage was first rate, but after sitting down and talking with Mike and his team, I came away impressed by the passion and the singular commitment that they shared. They were committed to a quality product, to working as a team, and to growing the business and hitting those target numbers that would trigger an employee bonus.

During my time at the plant, there was a lot of talk about company culture. It quickly became clear that the word wasn’t just thrown around as a buzzword. It truly meant something, and everyone from the top management to the newest workers did their part to create a healthy work environment with open communication. The miniscule turnover rate proves that they’re doing something right.

I also got to speak with Roland Dickey of Dickey’s Barbecue Pit. Like Kiolbassa Provision, Dickey’s is a third-generation family-owned business with its home in Texas. While it’s not a meat processor, there are some lessons to be learned from the story of how Dickey’s grew from a few restaurants to more than 500 units across the country. I appreciated the fact that Dickey’s has intentionally kept its menu from expanding into burgers, appetizers, salads — seriously, who goes to a barbecue restaurant and orders a salad? Dickey’s knows its strengths, plays to its strengths, and doesn’t try to be all things to all people.

Finally, I headed up to Nashville at the end of February to attend the Annual Meat Conference. There were experts from all corners of the meat and grocery industries, and while they discussed many problems facing the meat industry, one thing was clear. People love to eat meat. They might not always have the financial means to buy exactly what they want, but they will find some way to keep animal protein in their diet. It’s good to keep that in mind amidst all the talk of antibiotics and Dietary Guidelines Committees. There is an audience who will eagerly buy what you are selling. Just remember to keep your internal processes as healthy as your sales figures, and focus on what you do best.

I recorded a few video podcasts while I was at the Annual Meat Conference. Some have been uploaded to www.provisioneronline.com/videos, with a few more to come, so check them out.

LAST CALL: If you are interested in submitting your company for our 2nd Independent Processor of the Year Award, please contact me at gazdziaks@bnpmedia.com.