Ever since I have been writing for Independent Processor magazine, I’ve been attending the AAMP Annual Convention. It’s just one of multiple trade shows and conventions that I attend each year, but it’s much different from the massive expos that take up multiple halls in Chicago, Atlanta or Las Vegas. The sight of hordes of children going from booth to booth looking for freebies and candy like it’s Halloween is pretty much exclusive to the AAMP show.

This year’s convention was especially welcome because it was the first such event in two years. Last year’s show in Iowa was a COVID casualty, and the return of a face-to-face show in Oklahoma City provided a welcome dose of normalcy. Admittedly, many of the conversations touched on last year’s pandemic and how their companies were affected. But as the processor community navigated through the most trying times in recent memory, this show almost felt like a reward. Congratulations, you survived 2020, your business is growing, you got your vaccine, and now you get to go to Oklahoma City and drink a beer at the Cowboy Museum while talking with friends you haven’t seen in a couple of years.

The show floor was packed, with many new attendees and new exhibitors. The seminars were helpful, and the American Cured Meat Championships were challenging. My June cover story company, Dewig Meats, won a slew of awards, including the Cured Meats Excellence Award and the Best of Show Award for its lightweight bacon. I sure can pick ‘em, right? It was good to see Aaron Kiesel of Dewig Meats and John Tiefenthaler of Tiefenthaler Quality Meats be inducted to the Cured Meats Hall of Fame. I’ve interviewed both of them multiple times, and their meat processing know-how and willingness to share their knowledge make them worthy inductees. Louis and Barbara Muench of Louie’s Finer Meats were deserving winners of the AAMP Achievement Award.

The show represented a return to normalcy, but not quite — something has changed in the small meat sector. The companies that found success as niche meat markets aren’t really niche anymore – they’re bustling stores with a need for expansion. There were more new companies in attendance in Oklahoma City than any other show in recent memory. I think the industry has reached a turning point, one that was sped up dramatically by the pandemic, that favors small businesses. It will be interesting to see where the momentum carries these companies by the time next year’s AAMP show rolls around.

Sam Gazdziak