Nebraska processor finds room to grow
Prior to 2015, Jesse Smith had no connection to the meat processing. Four short years later, he is the founder of a successful locker plant and the new owner of a thriving further processing business. After seeing a need in the marketplace, Smith and his wife, Shelly, founded Diller Locker in Diller, Neb. Earlier this year, the couple purchased C&C Processing from Smith’s brother-in-law, Chad Lottman.
“I was looking to start my own business, but we live in a town of about 260 people. I had a lot of good ideas that wouldn’t work in a small town, and we as a family didn’t want to move to the city,” Smith says. “My brother-in-law Chad, as he was growing his business, had a couple of opportunities come up that would require him to discontinue his slaughter operations. He talked to me about that to see if he was interested.”
Smith got a crash course in slaughtering and cutting up beef, and he also ran the numbers to see if it would be a profitable business. It looked like a profitable business venture, so Diller Locker was launched four years ago.
Smith says that many small meat lockers in the state of Nebraska have closed within the last 10 years. There have also been larger meat processors that, as they have grown other aspects of their business, have phased out their slaughter process. Even in a place like Nebraska, which calls itself The Beef State, there is a need for livestock slaughter.
“My goal is to never give up slaughter. We really go out of our way for the local guys,” Smith says, adding that his further customer is located about four hours away. He says that Diller Locker is always available to help local farmers in emergency situations, whereas most other companies are booked out months in advance.
“We try to keep a schedule where we’re busy, but there’s always room if someone needs to get in at the last minute,” Smith says.
The latest addition to the company came in May 2019, when the Smiths acquired C&C Processing. Owner Lottman decided to focus on his Landmark Snacks venture, and Diller Locker was able to add a turnkey further processing operation. Smith says the company’s processing business is largely dedicated to co-packing, though it does sell its own branded products at its market.
Diller Locker now offers a variety of sausages and other smoked meats, but much of its operation is devoted to meat snacks — whole-muscle jerky, along with ground jerky, meat sticks and bars. Since adding on this RTE operation, Smith has been working with new customers to balance out the product portfolio, with more sticks and bars.
Since Smith started Diller Locker, his role has evolved dramatically.
“In the very beginning, about four years ago, there were only four employees. I was on the slaughter floor every week and the cutting floor every day,” he recalls. “Now that we’ve grown, my general manager oversees the slaughter facility, and I’m at the processing division. Mainly what I’m doing now is developing customers, trying to find the ones that align with what we’re trying to do with our business, then developing them to the level that they want to be and that we need them to be.”