Q&A with AAMP President Rick Reams
Rick Reams was elected president of the American Association of Meat Processors (AAMP) in July during the 80th Annual Convention of Meat Processors and Suppliers’ Exhibition, in Mobile, AL.
Reams is the owner of RJ’s Meats in Hudson, WI, and K’Nack in St. Paul, MN. Reams, a Hudson native, has owned RJ’s Meats for more than 30 years. He began his meat industry career in 1977 as a clean up worker for Jim’s Meats. After a break from the industry and a four-year stint in the Air Force, he returned to Hudson in 1986 and purchased Jim’s Meats, later renaming it RJ’s Meats. In late 2018, the Reams family launched their second business, K’Nack. K’Nack is an extension of RJ’s Meats and operates inside of the Keg and Case Market in St. Paul.
He has been a member of the Wisconsin Association of Meat Processors (WAMP) and the American Association of Meat Processors since 1994. He served as chairman of the WAMP product show in 2004 and served a two-year term as president of WAMP starting in 2010. He actively helps with and attends both state and national meat association conventions striving to gain more knowledge and expertise in the industry. He has been a tremendous promoter for WAMP and the AAMP, always offering his help and knowledge to others in the meat industry.
At the national level, Reams was the recipient of the 2002 AAMP Accomplishment Award, which recognizes the honoree’s outstanding achievements in the meat and poultry industry accomplished over a relatively short period of time. He was inducted into the Cured Meats Hall of Fame in 2011. The Cured Meats Hall of Fame recognizes individuals that have shown a long-standing excellence in the production of cured meats.
RJ’s Meats has won countless awards with their products at both state and national cured meats shows. More recently, RJ’s won international recognition after taking home the grand prize for ham and second prize for sausage at the 2019 IFFA competition in Frankfurt, Germany. IFFA is the world’s leading trade fair and international meeting place for the industry.
Rick and his wife Anne have three sons, Anthony, Aaron, and Joe. With two business locations, Joe works as the general manager of K’Nack. Anthony works as co-manager of RJ’s and Aaron works outside of the industry but helps out with the family business as needed.
Reams succeeds Chad Lottman of LandMark Snacks, Beatrice, NE, who will remain on the AAMP Board of Directors as the Immediate Past President. Darla Kiesel, Dewig Meats, Haubstadt, IN was elected 1st Vice President; Tom Eickman, Eickman’s Processing Inc., Seward, IL, was elected 2nd Vice President; Scott Filbrandt, Bob’s Processing, South Haven, MI was elected 3rd Vice President; and Dwight Ely, Ely Farm Products, Newtown, PA was elected Treasurer.
AAMP’s Operator Directors are Mike Holland, Holland Brothers Meats, Duncansville, PA; Stephen Boyer, The Country Butcher, Tolland, CT; Leighton Western, Western’s Smokehouse, Greentop, MO; Shane Flowers, Project Meats & Ranch House, Billings, MT; Jennifer Dierkes, McDonald’s Meats Inc, Clear Lake, MN; Danny Mendes, Tulare Meat Locker & Sausage Co., Tulare, CA; John Tiefenthaler, Tiefenthaler Quality Meats, Holstein, IA; and Ryan Schmidt, Schmidt’s Meat Market Inc., Nicollet, MN.
AAMP’s elected Supplier Directors are Rhonda Ashby, UltraSource LLC, Kansas City, MO; Jon Frohling, ScottPec, Box Elder, SD; and Robin Bacopoulos, TemPac LLC, West Chester, OH.
Rick sat down with AAMP for a discussion on his presidency and where he sees the association going during his term of service.
AAMP: Can you give us a brief background of your experience in the industry?
RR: First and foremost, I am a product of AAMP, WAMP, and the other state associations. In 1987 when I took over my shop from the previous owner, we strictly sold fresh meats. We did no smoking. I stared bankruptcy in the face a few times. My sister told me I needed a calling card. So we decided to try our hands at sausage. We said we are going to make five different smoked sausages and that’s it. It’s funny because today we have seven different kinds of salami alone. Everything that I have done or made, someone has planted the seed and gave me the idea. I owe my success to the association. The annual convention is where I learned the most. I like to talk to people and I learn a lot. I’ve met so many great people as a result of that. I haven’t missed an AAMP convention since my first one in 1994. I will continue to attend every state and national show.
AAMP: What expectations do you have for AAMP membership in 2020?
RR: More participation. We as the AAMP board need to step up our game and help our membership to become more active. I believe our affiliation with the German Butchers’ Association is huge. This is an opportunity to learn from our cousins in Germany. I want to continue to foster that relationship with them. I also want [AAMP members] to be more proactive in their own businesses.
AAMP: What are your goals for AAMP during your presidency?
RR: My goal is to do my best for the association. [Former AAMP President] Chad Lottman left big shoes to fill, and those shoes didn’t sit still. He set so much in motion that can enhance the benefits that we can offer our members. To fill those shoes is a relay race. He started it in motion, and I would love to continue to give our membership the most bang for their buck and get the word out. AAMP has so much to offer and there are a lot of things members don’t know about. My goal is to have our members be more active in AAMP and to not be complacent in their business and to continue growing.
AAMP: What is your outlook or predictions for the meat industry in 2020?
RR: With 2020, I think we will have a clear insight. There’s more competition from companies developing plant-based meat substitutes and such. We continue to thrive because it has forced us to step up the game and make our products better. Competition is good. The good ones step up to the plate and hit that home run. They won’t roll over. We want to continue to improve ourselves and make our products more known.
The great work that’s being done with regulatory will continue, including Appendix A & B. [AAMP Executive Director] Chris Young has a great presense in Washington, D.C. In fall of 2017, our Executive Committee went out to Washington. It was great to see the respect Washington has for Chris and our association.
AAMP: What new technologies or marketing are you using in your business to improve sales or the consumer experience?
RR: The meat vending machines are still very popular. I’m always on the lookout for new technologies. How can we apply computers to what we are doing? How can we make our life easier and grow our business? I’m always open to look at new things and improve my business, as well the experience for my customers. The Internet is a great thing but also a bad. How can we use social media to improve the customer experience and our bottom line? It’s a new market and I’m amazed at how big a role social media is playing. We need to embrace new techonlogies and figure out to how make them work for us.
AAMP: What advice would you give to new processors entering the business?
RR: People are always going to eat; It’s a matter of finding your niche in the field. [Consumers] can go to the grocery store and buy hamburger. We have to tell and share our story. Gone are the days where you can hang a sign that says “fresh meat.” We have to let the consumer know what we know. The ones that will be successful are meat information centers. We can educate the consumer about what we are eating, why they like it, and what makes it so good. We need to be passionate about what we do and share that passion. It was a fluke that I ended up in the meat industry. My great great grandfather was a butcher from Bavaria. My grandmother and her father didn’t stay in the meat industry. I told my sons, whatever you do, enjoy it. If you don’t like what you’re doing, it will show in your work and it will be a long, miserable life.
AAMP: How would you define success in the meat industry?
RR: Success to me isn’t how much money I have accumulated. It’s not about how many accolades I have won. Success is a journey. How do I measure success? A young man and his grandfather recently visited my shop in St. Paul [K’Nack]. The grandfather, originally from Germany, took a bite of a sandwich and said it reminded him of his childhood in Stuttgart. It brought back a memory for him. That’s success. It is making someone else’s life better by what I have done.
I believe that in the next few years, the youth on AAMP board and the next generation of processors will have the opportunity to step up and make it even better. We are going to see a transformation. IP