In this video Q&A, Rick Reams, owner and operator of RJ’s Meats and Groceries, discusses the benefits of entering meat competitions and gives advice to those who have never competed.

Sam Gazdziak: I’m here talking with Rick Reams of RJ’s Meats and Groceries, and he’s got several products entered in this year’s competition. Rick, can you tell a little bit about what your company is and some of your specialties?

Rick Reams: We’re a retail meat market—used to be grocery store, now meat market. Our specialties are smoked and cooked cured products. In the last few years, we’ve really had a lot of success with dried salamis, Italian style salamis. Otherwise, we’ve got a full line of bratwurst, over 50 flavors, and hams and bacons. More of the artisan-style stuff. That’s what the consumers want.

Gazdziak: How many products have you entered in this year’s competition?

Reams: This year’s IFFA competition we brought 23 entries for them to examine.

Gazdziak: You’ve been a regular participant in American Cured Meats competitions and probably some of the state competitions as well. What are some of the benefits you’ve seen from doing this?

Reams: The main benefit I’ve seen from it is actually improving my product. Taking the comments the judges have written on the score cards and taking it back home and improving the product for the consumer. From the first products I’ve made 20-some years ago to the products we make now, my customers say they are always great, but the taste of the first products we made to what we make now, they would say, ‘did you really make that first product?’ So that’s been the biggest advantage. There’s a huge marketing advantage in the fact that when you bring home an award and you put it out there whether you put it on your wall or your meat case and you advertise it, that’s kind of a stamp of approval saying this is a good product, and it will help that person who is kind of waffling to buy this or not. When they see it’s won an award, they are going to pick it up and say, ‘how was this? I’ve got this award winner in my fridge and how was it?’ And they’re happy.

Gazdziak: Obviously with all the awards you’ve won and the fact that you are in the cured meats hall of fame, you’ve had really good success in these types of competitions, so what advice do you have for people looking to get into competitions or do you do anything differently with the products you submit for these shows?

Reams: We really don’t do anything different. We’ll make fresh product for the show. We try to stay on top of our game. For those just getting involved, I would say do it the way I did. Volunteer to work behind the scenes assisting a judge, seeing the products that are in there and listening with open ears to what they had to say about those products—what they liked and what they didn’t like. Why does this product have this defect? What caused it and how to prevent that? That’s where you can get nitty gritty and help out. Take it to heart and with a grain of salt too. Don’t be thin skinned when you stand there helping, and you may have a product entered in that class if the competition will allow workers to enter. As they tear your product apart, don’t take it too personally. In Wisconsin, I’ve assisted numerous times, and I’ve had a lot of my products literally torn to shreds. It’s tough, but it’s all part of the game. So I would just urge everyone to give it a try.