American Association of Meat Processors (AAMP) Executive Director Chris Young was invited recently by the German Butchers’ Association to speak to attendees of the 2019 IFFA in Frankfurt, Germany on the topic of ‘American Craft Butchers: Small and Medium-sized Enterprises and Their Traditional Products.’ Young gave attendees an overview of the U.S. meat processing industry, especially for AAMP’s small-scale producers.
Meat industry challenges
Over the last 15 years, the United States saw a steady decrease in the small processor establishments; a reason Young believes is due to the next generations not taking over their family business. However, the association has started to see a continual growth over the last several years, which he credits to the local food movement, farm-to-table, and consumers wanting to understand where their meat comes from.
“This has really pushed a lot of business back to the small processor and small craft butcher,” said Young. “We have actually started to see an increase in small craft butchers opening up new businesses. The next generation is starting to choose that type of work again.”
Equipment suppliers to the meat industry are also catering to the small processor as well.
“Many of these suppliers are making equipment that will fit in our small craft butcher shops. It makes the job easier,” he said.
A universal challenge among the small processors of the U.S. is finding and keeping reliable employees. “That is a challenge for us in the states, as I am sure in many different places,” said Young. As the economy continues to grow in the U.S., so does the competition for good employees in the meat industry.” Other notable challenges include the expense of new equipment or building space to keep up with the demands of the industry.
Young said that in his conversations with AAMP members, many continue to use businesses models that are becoming obsolete in today’s world of social media and technology. “So many of our small craft butchers live in a business model where they have always had the same customers in their small town,” he said. “Those older customers are slowly going away. We are trying to teach our members that the next generation lives by the smartphone and social media. That’s where they are doing their business. You don’t have to change the quality of your products, or how you make them, but you should change the way you market them.”
How AAMP serves its members
Young described the many benefits of AAMP membership, one of which is the oversight of regulations. He noted, “One important function of the association is, when complex regulations are enacted, we try to break them down and interpret them in laymen’s terms so [processors] understand how they’re impacted on a daily basis. We want the processors to be able to concentrate on their businesses and let us support what they do.”
Another way important way the association serves its members is through education. “We have started to develop training videos,” said Young. “We have designed them to be 7-8 minutes long. Time is money. We make the videos short so businesses can train their employees quickly and still operate efficiently.”
In addition to education for processors, AAMP also provides fact sheets for members to hand out in their butcher shops to their customers. “In today’s social movement, there’s a lot of questions about hormones in meat and nitrites and nitrates,” Young said. “We need to help educate consumers with factual information that will contradict the false information they are reading about on the Internet. It’s important that they receive the correct information.”
AAMP’s fastest-growing benefit is a new labor law materials section on the member-only side of its website. Topics on the page include the hiring and firing of employees, how to maintain employees, OSHA regulations, and much more. “In the last two years we’ve been working with a labor law firm out of Texas. They have specialized in labor law for farming and the meat industry for more than 30 years.” The firm’s principal partner offers AAMP members free advice over the phone and by email. The firm also conducts legal seminars at the AAMP convention.
U.S. butchers and their products
Many of the products made in the United States are also made in countries like Germany and around the world, notes Young. “Small craft butchers take pride in their trade. They always have a thirst for learning about new products or new ways to improve those products. That’s why we [AAMP] formed a partnership with the German Butchers’ Association in 2015, in order to exchange ideas, technology and little nuances about how product is made. We want to help each other improve.”
In July, members of the German Butchers’ Association will be conducting the pre-convention workshop at AAMP’s 80th convention in Mobile, Alabama. They will discuss sausage making, catering, as well as show typical displays of a German butcher shop. “A lot of the same products made in Germany are also made in the U.S.,” said Young. “U.S. steak cuts and BBQ are becoming popular in Germany. While in the United States, traditional German products such as dried aged sausages and hard salami are growing in popularity. A lot of craft butchers are trying their hand at the dry aged, old world sausages.”
Bacon continues to remain one of the most popular items in the United States. Beef jerky is another popular item. So much so that the German Butchers’ Association asked AAMP members to present on beef jerky and snack stick making at their booth at the IFFA. While not traditionally a well-known or popular item in Germany, many craft butchers have begun to try their hand at making the product. With AAMP’s partnership, members of the German Butchers’ Association will be given access to the presentations and instructions on how to it.
“This is just another example of one of the benefits of the partnership,” said Young.
Importance of Partnerships
“We all face many challenges as butchers and meat processors,” he said. “Working together, we can share information and resources that only make us stronger as an industry. Our partnership is fairly young with the Germans, but it’s important to bring the industry together and move it forward. We are using each other to be better for the future. We hope to partner with others and tear down walls and continue to work together.”
Young believes that the industry has failed at being proactive in getting the message out about the products craft butchers make. “So many times I see that we as an industry are reacting to what others say. We need to be out in front and sharing the benefits of meat such as the nutritional value. Meat is not bad. Meat is a good thing. We need to tell our story,” he concluded.
Chris Young’s experience in the meat industry spans more than 30 years. He began his career as a meat processor in 1988 for Wild Bill’s, a small processing facility in Pennsylvania. His roles expanded over the years to include jerky and ham production, quality control responsibilities, and plant management. In 2015, he became the executive director of AAMP, where he oversees the membership of more than 1,400 companies, including some Canadian firms. He advocates for small processors before industry agencies in Washington, D.C., and tracks and interprets complex regulations and proposed new regulations that could affect small meat processors in their day-to-day business.