AAMP’s Chris Young on workforce development

AAMP President Chris Young comments on the outlook for the labor market for meat and poultry processors in 2023 and shares some approaches processors are employing to source and retain labor. 

Deli Star’s ‘people-first’ approach 

Deli Star Corp., a deli and sous-vide meat supplier to consumer packaged goods brands, foodservice and retail, added more than 100 new employees to its operations during a six-month period in 2022 -- a time when many food industry professionals reported facing recruitment challenges at their companies.

Lisa Whealon, vice president-people & culture for St. Louis-based Deli Star, shares some approaches to workforce development that have factored in to Deli Star’s growth.

The National Provisioner: Share some insights about recruiting and managing a diverse staff.

Lisa Whealon: We did an extensive compensation audit, and one of the outcomes of this work was an increase in starting wages. This, along with creative benefit offerings, set us apart and significantly increased our hiring pipeline. We have also been intentional about evaluating internal processes to eliminate hiring roadblocks. Managing new hires and a diverse staff is all about our people-first philosophy. Being committed to evolving with the ever-changing needs of employees, valuing each person’s unique background and contributions, and reflecting this in a dynamic employee experience is what we work to achieve daily. Our commitment to innovation extends well beyond products. Creativity and innovation with benefits and employee experience are key to recruiting, managing, and retaining a diverse staff.

The National Provisioner: What has been Deli Star’s most stubborn challenge in recruiting and retaining employees?

Lisa Whealon: The greatest recruitment challenge is keeping up with the pace at which we are growing. Given the rapid growth, we believe that retaining employees hinges on our investment in more training and development -- ensuring our leaders and employees get the right amount of support to continuously learn, grow and improve.


The National Provisioner: Which incentives – compensation, insurance benefits, career development opportunities -- has Deli Star found to be key in attracting employees?

Lisa Whealon: While we take a holistic approach to benefit offerings, there are a few that have been key in attracting employees. For example, making benefits available from day one of employment with Deli Star has set us apart. The HSA contribution from Deli Star for employees and flexible time off have also been appreciated by prospective and current employees. Our investment in certifications for new hires at all levels of the organization, 100% company-paid long-term disability for all employees, and our sabbatical policy for loyal, long-term employees are some of our other unique and attractive perks.

The National Provisioner: What role does morale-boosting team building (company picnics, employee awards, etc.) play in Deli Star’s employee engagement?

Lisa Whealon: Being a people-first company, morale-boosting team building plays a huge role. Events and awards are nice and certainly happen at Deli Star, but our focus on ensuring people feel a sense of belonging at work. On a daily basis, we want Deli Star employees to feel seen and heard. One tremendously successful initiative is our employee-driven recognition program, Cultiv8. Since this program formally launched in April, 198 Cultiv8 recognition cards have been submitted. We select from these submissions and recognize employees every month. This recognition is deeply personal and tailored to the employee, as we have a recognition profile for every Deli Star employee. Whether we are celebrating a Cultiv8 recognition, a promotion, or milestone, the intentionality of personalized recognition promotes belonging and engagement.

The National Provisioner: How does Deli Star’s use of automation in its processing operations intersect with staffing levels and worker training?

Lisa Whealon: Automated processes allow us to be employee-centric and reduce the time it takes to fill positions. We’re able to onboard and get new hires on the production line more quickly. Additionally, automation and company goals have created new roles throughout the organization. However, we’ve placed an intentional focus on opportunities versus headcount. Within production, there are more opportunities for mobility and growth for our employees.