Going Strong at 95

by Joshua Lipsky, Senior Editor
Celebrating its anniversary milestone, Kayem Foods goes national with its distribution and introduces a line of brats and all natural chicken sausages.
Family owned by the Monkiewiczs since it’s inception in 1909, Chelsea, MA-based Kayem Foods has become New England’s largest producer of natural casing franks and the No. 1 brand of franks sold in both the deli and meat section of supermarkets. Kayem Foods says it has become New England’s No. 1 brand of franks by offering its customers the best of both worlds — “Old World” flavor and “New World” quality and freshness.
Kayem Foods produces almost 1 million franks daily and markets its products under eight brands, including Kayem, Genoa, McKenzie of Vermont, al fresco, and Triple M. Under those brands, the company offers more than 500 products, including its Old Tyme natural casing franks, oven roasted choice roast beef, whole muscle and all-natural turkey breast, naturally hardwood smoked deli hams, all natural gourmet chicken sausage, fresh Italian sausage, cooked and cured Italian specialty products, corned beef, pastrami, bologna, and German specialty products.
“The strategy for Kayem Franks is rather simple,” explains Matt Monkiewicz, director of marketing for Kayem. “We provide and distribute uncompromisingly top quality products to our customers that have a strong position in the category. We also deliver value to consumers by providing great tasting products.”
Kayem has succeeded in growing its position in the category by offering its products at both the retail and foodservice level. While Kayem’s products have more visibility at the retail level, Kayem Deli Hot Dogs, the skinless variety of the company’s hallmark Old Tyme Franks, are being exclusively featured during the 2004 baseball season in eight ballparks, including McCoy Stadium, home of the Pawtucket Red Sox; Hadlock Field, home of the Portland (ME) Sea Dogs; LeLacheur Field, home of the Lowell (MA) Spinners; and Gill Stadium, home of the Manchester (NH) Fisher Cats.
Regardless of the channel, Kayem sells the same product.
“It’s always the same formula,” relays Monkiewicz. “No matter where they buy a Kayem Frank, consumers know it will taste exactly what the way they expect. Some operators may choose different varieties, like skinless or natural casing, meat or beef, bun sized or foot long, but the secret formula is always the same regardless of the channel.”
Growth challenges
While growing the product at retail and foodservice has been a priority for Kayem, it hasn’t been easy. Chris Reisner, national director for retail sales for Kayem, says there are distinct challenges for growing a product at retail versus foodservice. Even within the retail channel, there are different challenges, whether it’s selling a product in the meat case or in the deli. According to Reisner, at the meat department, hurdles include competing for shelf space as well as room for displays and ads. At the deli department, challenges include improving visibility and maintaining freshness.
“The difficulty with foodservice is communicating your brand to the consumer and getting across your value proposition to both the foodservice operator and the consumer,” says Steve Kurek, national director for foodservice sales.. “There are plenty of cheap hot dogs on the market. We need to continue to provide a level of quality and service that is unmatched and build awareness of our brand in order to continue to build that trust and loyalty. That’s not necessarily done by simply broadcasting a commercial.”
Kayem builds trust with retailers by forging active relationships, both with its retail partners and their customers. Kayem doesn’t want to be viewed as just another hot dog producer vying for retail space.
“Whether it be aligning trade ads with the media or partnering with other vendors for special chain specific promotions, we always bring creativity, energy, and ideas to the table to help drive business,” says Monkiewicz. “We also listen to our retail partners. Many of our new products were developed at the request of a retail partner. We’re not arrogant, so we don’t think that our R&D group has to come up with all of the ideas. Half the battle when introducing a new item, even supporting the growth of existing items, is having the support of the retail buyers and category managers, who are just as much marketers as we are.”
Going national
Kayem’s retail strategy has paid off. Market share has jumped from 5 percent volume share in 1996 to 8.6 percent volume share in 2003. Kayem also has the No. 3 branded retail packaged frank, with the second highest retail price per pound in the category. Sales for Kayem’s key brands are up over 30 percent for the year and retail sales for Kayem Franks are up 12.4 percent this year, according to AC Nielsen.
The company has now set its sights from transitioning from New England’s No. 1 brand of franks to the United States’ No. 1 brand of franks. Kayem now ships about 2 million pounds of franks annually to Florida and has opened markets from Maine to California. However, going national has its hurdles. The foremost challenge for a perishable product is building a nationwide distribution network. In addition to working with its manufacturing and distribution network, Kayem is actively building a broker sales network to help reach new markets. Another obstacle is introducing an unknown brand into an already crowded marketplace.
“Media and markets are fragmented and it’s getting more and more difficult to reach people among the clutter of messages being blasted at them everyday,” explains Monkiewicz. “Retailers aren’t often up for the task of building your brand from the ground up unless you’ve got something new and different.”
Two “new and different” products that Kayem will use to help them reach national distribution are its Boston Brat line and its al fresco All Natural, Fully Cooked Chicken Sausage line. There are three different products in the Boston Brat line, the Original, the Cheddar Brat, and the Pale Ale Brat that is made with Boston, MA-based Harpoon’s Indian Pale Ale.
“Kayem knows New Englanders like sausage, so we’re sure they’ll love our mild, sweet Brats,” boasts Ray Monkiewicz, president of Kayem Foods. “We make the Brats fresh, every day with delicious, tender specially prepared meat for a tender, juicy texture, than deliver the Brats to market daily. Kayem Brats are the ultimate grilling meat.”
Kayem’s al fresco All Natural, Fully Cooked Chicken Sausage is already the No. 1 chicken sausage in the Northeastern United States, according to a survey conducted by AC Neilsen. According to the 2003 survey, al fresco outsold its nearest competition by a three-to-one margin. The brand also experienced the largest level of growth of any Top 10 sausage (cooked or uncooked) during 2003.
There are seven flavors in the line, including Roasted Garlic, Teriyaki Ginger, Sun-dried Tomato & Basil, Spicy Jalepeno, Garden Primavera, Sweet Apple, and Sweet Italian.
While Kayem is hoping its al fresco and Boston Brat lines will help propel the company to national recognition, al fresco has already garnered international exposure. al fresco sausages are now being sold in Hong Kong at Uny Co. Ltd., a Japanese outlet based in Eastern Hong Kong’s City Plaza shopping complex. According to Monkiewicz, al fresco’s Roasted Garlic variety is the top selling flavor.
Growing outward, improving inward
Expanding distribution and introducing new products are vital to Kayem’s success. However, those initiatives would not be possible if the company did not strive to constantly improve its technological infrastructure.
Kayem recently completed the rebuilding of its in-house testing laboratory and can now perform in-house chemical and microbiological testing of its products. Kayem is also in the process of instituting a bar code scanning system through its production operation to assist in product tracking and yield analysis.
Entering its 95th year of business, Kayem has a firm game plan in place. Continuously improve how it produces its products. Distribute high-quality, traditional products, while developing new and innovative products. Maintain its strong retail position while steadily building its foodservice reputation. All these components have positioned Kayem to become a national player in the hot dog game and have ensured that this company will be around for many more years.