There are plenty of innovative, highly regarded meat and poultry processors in the country that never get the recognition they deserve, which probably doesn’t come as a surprise to most of the people reading this magazine. The nationally distributed companies with the million-dollar marketing budgets will always be more visible than the regional or local company, but that doesn’t make them better. In many ways, the smaller companies are the ones that can afford to be more innovative and forward-thinking.

The Independent Provisioner was launched with the idea of putting the focus on a side of the industry that is all too often overlooked. As part of that effort, we are proud to present our first ever Indie Awards —three different processors that best exemplify the creativity and spirit found in the industry. This year’s contest recognizes achievements in new products, advances in environmental sustainability, and people who truly made a difference in the industry.

The winners of the first ever Indie Awards are:

* New Product: Ruiz Foods of Dinuba, Calif., for its El Monterey Family Meals, a complete five-flavor meal in a heat-and-serve tray.

* Environmental Steward: Murray’s Chicken, South Fallsburg, N.Y., for its eco-packaging chicken sleeve. The packaging and its biodegradable liner do away with the traditional foam tray.

* Most Valuable Person: Tillman & Mike Stogner, Double D Meat Co. Inc., Bogalusa, La., for inviting Patton Sausage Co. into its facility when the company’s plant was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

The Independent Provisioner congratulates the winners of this contest. We look forward to featuring many top processors in the years to come.

If you would like to receive information about next year’s Indie Awards program, please e-mail, or call (678) 445-1789. We will send you the information when we start the call for entries.

Person of the Year

Tillman & Mike Stogner

Double D Meat Co. Inc.

Bogalusa, La.


The meat industry is a competitive business, but there is still a cooperative spirit among many professionals. People trade stories and give out suggestions at trade shows and conventions, and they’ll work together in beneficial co-packing arrangements. The actions that the Stogner family took in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation make them ideal winners of this award.

As owners of Double D Meat Co., they welcomed in Patton’s Sausage Co. when Patton’s New Orleans facility was destroyed. From late 2005 until early this year, Patton’s operated independently in Double D’s plant, letting the company stay in business and giving president Frank DeGrado enough time to find a facility and build a new home.

Tillman Stogner, president, says that he spoke with DeGrado soon after the storm hit, and the two were quickly able to come to an agreement that would allow Patton’s to continue operating and maintain its place in the market.

“It was easy, knowing Frank like we did,” he says. “It was a win-win for everyone. We didn’t hurt ourselves at all.”

Double D is a processor of country smoked sausage, and Patton’s produces beef sausage links and patties. The two companies had a good working relationship, and DeGrado even spent several days over the years in Tillman Stogner’s office to get away from some of the Mardi Gras crowds.

Patton’s moved some of its machinery into an unused part of Double D’s facility to produce its sausage products. DeGrado says that he was initially worried that his operations would get in Double D’s way and that he would be a burden on them. As it turned out, Tillman notes, the two years went by too quickly.

“I was hoping that his building would take longer and longer to get finished so he’d stay,” he says.

Patton’s new home is located just across the highway from Double D in Bogalusa, and Tillman jokes that he has his own office in the building.

“His view over there is a lot better than ours over here,” he adds.

Tillman says that the meat industry many years ago was more cutthroat, where people saw competing companies as the enemy. It’s not the same way today, he says.

“We’re all in the same situation, and we all need each other,” he says. “We were all good friends before, and now we’re family.”

New Product Award

El Monterey Family Meals

Ruiz Foods

Dinuba, Calif.


As the manufacturer of the popular El Monterey brand of frozen Mexican entrees, Ruiz Foods has long been considered an innovator in that market.

“We listen to the consumer and partner with our customers,” says Bryce Ruiz, president and co-CEO of the company. By keeping a careful watch of consumer tastes, the company was able to quickly react when it noted two trends.

“Today’s economy is encouraging consumers to shop for frozen foods that are high in quality, great tasting, easy to prepare and offer a good value,” he notes. Secondly, “consumers are choosing to eat more at home, yet want to spend less time actually preparing the meal.”

Ruiz Foods responded by introducing the El Monterey Family Meals, in five flavors: Spicy Beef Enchilada with Spanish-Style Rice; Cheese Enchiladas with Spanish-Style Rice; Beef and Bean Burritos with Spanish-Style Rice; Chicken Enchiladas with Spanish-Style Rice; and Chicken Mexicana and Pasta.

Each complete meal comes in a heat-and-serve tray, which can be prepared in the microwave or in a conventional oven. They are topped with traditional Mexican sauces and use quality meats and cheeses, Mexican spices and freshly baked tortillas.

“I’m confident to say that we’re the best selection available,” Ruiz says.

He notes that the company was the first to offer flour taquitos and the first to offer roller-grill tornados to the marketplace.

“Now, we are the first to offer our consumer a restaurant-quality meal line bringing convenience, value, great taste and ease in preparation to the kitchen table,” Ruiz adds.

The Family Meals were first introduced at the annual Food Marketing Institute show. The initial reception was excellent, and the products were quickly made available in Target, Meijer and Wakefern Shop Rite, to name a few retailers.

Ruiz Foods is a family-run business with three facilities and 2,500 employees nationwide. Its El Monterey brand is the #1 brand of frozen Mexican food in the United States. The company was founded by Fred Ruiz and his father Louis, in 1964. Fred currently is co-chair and co-CEO of the company, along with his eldest son, Bryce, and his eldest daughter, Kimberly Ruiz Beck, is co-chair.

Environmental Steward Award

Murray’s Chicken

South Fallsburg, N.Y.


As the founder, president and CEO of Murray’s Chicken, Murray Bresky has always been concerned with developing a product that’s both good to eat and good for the environment. As a grandfather, he wants to be sure that his grandchildren eat healthy and have products that are environmentally sustainable, “so there is a future for his grandkids, and his grandkids’ kids,” says Steve Gold, vice president of marketing.

Murray’s latest venture into sustainability is the launching of eco-friendly packaging for its chicken products. The company has done away with the foam tray, which Gold calls the most harmful component in the packaging of poultry products. In its place is a sturdy, freezer-ready sleeve with a biodegradable liner. A recent addition is the use of a biodegradable soaker pad. The package is also completely leak proof.

The time it took to develop the idea and enter into production took about a year and a half, Gold says. “Because we’re a small family operator, all the decisions are made by us,” he adds. “Once we made the decision, what it meant was moving around a couple of machines and bringing in this new [packaging] machine.”

The installation was done over a weekend. The tougher aspect, Gold says, was selling the notion to Murray’s customers and the consumer.

“We find that people do not like drastic change in how their product is packaged,” he says, noting that customers came to the store one day to find Murray’s new packaging amidst all the other foam trays and were taken aback.

Gold reports that Murray’s sales have increased since the introduction of the new packaging, and the company has added on customers — “more of the health-food specialty stores that love the concept of eliminating foam,” he says.

The new packaging has done more than eliminate the use of foam trays in the company. The smaller packaging has reduced the size of the master case, which has reduced the amount of paperboard the company buys. The leak-proof packaging eliminates the use of a mother bag. Retailers also see savings in the amount of shopping bags used, as cashiers and customers don’t neat to wrap the chicken in multiple bags for fear of leaks. Furthermore, it has reduced trucking costs, because the company can put more boxes on a pallet.

“We figure for every 81 trucks we send out, we save one tractor trailer, which is significant,” Gold says.