The Meat Industry Hall of Fame will induct its class of 2019 on January 27, 2020 in Atlanta, Ga. The ceremony will take place at the Omni Atlanta Hotel at CNN Center. One of this year’s inductees is Morris Burger, the former President/CEO of Burgers’ Smokehouse in California, Mo.
The country ham sector is an important niche in the U.S. ham market, and Burgers’ Smokehouse of California, Mo., is the leader of the field. Morris Burger has played an indispensable role in the company’s success, and his dedication to quality and willingness to give back to his community has benefited the entire meat industry. He has been involved in the company from a very early age, selling country hams out of the trunk of his car during his summer vacations from school. As the second generation of family owner/operators, Morris guided the business with an eye toward quality, consistent products and innovative business ideas. Through his efforts, Burgers’ Smokehouse has the third and fourth generations in place, and the company is well-positioned for future growth.
Morris Burger was born May 2, 1935 in Sedalia, Missouri. He and his two sisters lived on the family farm nine miles southwest of California, Missouri with their parents E. M. and Natalia Burger. Morris graduated from California High School in 1953. He attended the University of Missouri, graduating in 1957 with a bachelor’s degree in Ag Engineering. He served in the U.S. Army from 1957-59.
Morris began employment with the family business once he got out of the Army. He was driven by the goal of producing the finest quality cured ham in the country. He readily found markets for his quality hams with area restaurants and individual buyers. The company began sending a Christmas catalog in the early 1960’s that developed into a Direct Marketing Division for orders received by mail, phone, fax and later, Internet. In the decades that followed, Morris oversaw expansions, processing improvements and technological changes. Today, the business’ orders exceed 500,000 hams and tens of thousands of pounds of bacon, sausage and specialty meats each year. The company has become one of the leading country ham makers in the U.S.
E.M. Burger died in 1972 and Morris led the business until the 1990’s when the third generation took over the company’s day-to-day operations. When his children were ready to come into the business, Morris spent many hours teaching them the skills to be successful in the production of quality cured and smoked meat products. In 1995, Morris shared his knowledge with people of Turkmenistan as a volunteer with the 1995 U.S. Agency for International Development.
Morris has shared his knowledge with members of the American Association of Meat Processors (AAMP) throughout the years. He competed in cured meats competitions at the state and national level, always striving to improve his product. In 1996, Morris’ efforts to produce high quality processed meat products were recognized by his peers and he was inducted into AAMP’s Cured Meats Hall of Fame. He was the fourteenth individual to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Morris has dedicated years of selfless service to various organizations. He has been a director of the Missouri 4-H Foundation since 2001. He is still very supportive of the program, emphasizing that 4-H helped him learn various skills, which he could apply to butchering and preparing meats. Over the years, he has worked with tens of thousands of 4-H members, demonstrating curing techniques to participants in the 4-H ham project every year since 1986.
Among other notable accomplishments, he was a part of the University of Missouri Ag Alumni Board of Directors; University of Missouri Development Council representing College of Agriculture; College of Agriculture Campaign Committee for Development; MU College of Agriculture Alumnus of the Year Award for 2003; National Agriculture Alumni Development Association Volunteer Service Award in 2003, Ohio State University; Vice President of the Capitol Region Medical Center Foundation; Mumford Distinguished Service Award in 2015; to name a few. In 2014, he was presented the University of Missouri Alumni Award, one of his top honors received. Only five recipients each year from over 300,000 known alumni worldwide receive the award. He is a lifetime member of the United Church of Christ of California, Missouri.
Morris still often comes into the business and acts as board emeritus and company ambassador.
“Morris Burger was one of the specialty meat processors that realized that the foundation of a great company should be based on quality and consistency. Supporting this concept with strong, innovative marketing efforts and community support, Morris created the largest country ham producer in the United States.
Coupled with excellent processing methodology and innovative mail order marketing methods Burger Smokehouse gained a national reputation for quality and excellence. At home his support for family and community gained him the respect of anyone who knew him. More than one competitor stopped by California, Missouri, to view his operation and spent the night enjoying his hospitality and industry knowledge.”
Mike Satzow, former President, North Country Smokehouse
Meat Industry Hall of Fame Inductee
“Burgers’ dedication to the art of producing country hams is witnessed through their work with FFA and 4-H Clubs throughout Mid Missouri. They get the hams and all the supplies for the kids every year and guide them thru the process in preparation for the State Fair.
Morris and I volunteered through Winrock International in 1995 to set up a Sausage Factory in Charjew, Turkmenistan. We were gone a month, and I learned quite a bit about the man. Never have I met a more dedicated man to his mission, and most humble in getting there. He is a driving force in the Country Ham industry and also in the Meat Catalog business. A business leader in Missouri, employing over 300 people and serving on bank boards and other boards and committees. I know of no other man that deserves this award more than Morris Burger.”
Ed Woods, owner, Woods Smoked Meats
Meat Industry Hall of Fame Inductee
“I’ve known Morris since 1983 or 1984. I was with Kroger in St. Louis, and with Morris being from Missouri, I would encounter him at meetings and other functions. Being somewhat of a rookie in those days, it didn’t take long to realize he was a pretty solid individual.
He’s quite a visionary, if you think about how well that company has done and how it continues to grow to this day. He set the standard many years ago, and the boys have carried on very, very well. His contribution is consistent and steady in what he does. It’s not a one-dimensional thought process, because Morris looked at the bigger picture. I served on their board for a short period of time. Morris is emeritus and still attends the meetings, and even to this day when Morris speaks, everybody listens. He’s still engaged and focused; he doesn’t deviate.
On top of that is the contributions he makes to his community. They’re very much involved in their community of California. It would be a very well-deserved honor for Morris to receive this nomination. There is a shortage of people like Morris in the industry today.”
Lucky Hicks, Senior VP of Perishables (retired)
Associated Wholesale Grocers Inc.
“We were in school together at the University of Missouri, starting about 65 years ago. We’ve been motivated to stay in touch with each other all that time. He’s had the vision, knowledge and skills to promote the industry and particularly, the University of Missouri and the ag programs there.
He and his company have survived and prospered in an industry sector that’s lacked growth. He’s inspired a third and fourth generation to stay in the industry, which is quite rare. He’s continuously looked for ways to advance the food industry.
When I think of him, I think of Thomas E. Wilson, who wrote something for employees called “Our Ideal”: “To make well and to trade fairly, to profit not alone in dollars but in the good will of those with whom we deal, to correct our errors, to improve our opportunities, and to rear from the daily work a structure that shall be known for all that is best in business.” I’ve known a lot of people in my many, many years in the industry, and he tops the list when it comes to that definition.
Morris has been a big supporter of AAMP ever since I’ve known him in the business. He’s also been a major supporter for decades of the University of Missouri, for the whole school as well as the school of agriculture.”
John Hanes, Chairman/President/CEO (retired)