Priprimed  for Growth

Identical twins may carry individual distinctions, but their core kinship value stems from genetic homogeneity — which is to say they are different and also alike. This phenomenon replicates in unlikely situations across the board, whether political, religious, commercial, or social. So it is, then, in these modern times that unlikely partnerships foster successful opportunities born of common pursuits, with collaboration and cooperation as the twin drivers behind historically competitive enterprises now on a one-way road toward marketshare coup d’états and financial prosperity.
Such is the case concerning the current meat manufacture business practices guiding Wichita, KS-based Cargill Meat Solutions, an evolving enterprise born as a beef company and now operating as a global umbrella organization for marketing beef, pork, and turkey in a range of cuts, ingredient formulations, packaging options, and distribution channels. Cooked and marinated meats complement fresh meats. More than a dozen brands tout the company’s product collection including Sterling Silver and Northridge Farms beef, Tender Choice pork, Honeysuckle White and Plantation turkey.
The name Cargill Meat Solutions (CMS) entered the Minneapolis-based corporate Cargill Inc. lexicon in 2000 as a business platform incorporating Excel Corp., once known as America’s Beef Company; Caprock Cattle Feeders, a leading finisher of beef cattle; and Cargill Pork, a leading producer of hogs. Cargill’s turkey business, previously an independent operating company, joined the mix in 2001.
One of 13 business groupings within the Cargill Inc. family of companies — the CMS portfolio of operating units collectively generating annual sales of nearly $13 billion include Excel Corp., Taylor Packing Co., Emmpak Foods Inc., and the Cargill Value Added Meats Business Unit. Nearly 33,000 associates handle the worldwide operation comprised of 28 processing facilities and sales offices in the United States, Canada, and Australia, supported by international business management systems in China, Honduras, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Australia.
 Its parent company — positioned as specialist in distinctive customer solutions in supply chain management, food applications, health, and nutrition — is an international marketer, processor, and distributor of agricultural, food, financial, and industrial products and services with 97,000 employees in 59 countries.
Cargill’s CMS is nothing if not in an ever-changing mode, which explains the recent debut of a new initiative focusing on customer loyalty and placing customer business success at the top of its lists of service priorities. “Our message is that we are fresh meat specialists,” Bill Rupp, president, Cargill Beef, states succinctly. “When our customers need help or have new opportunities, we want them to call Cargill Meat Solutions first.”
As Rupp and his counterparts on the pork and turkey sides of the business know, earning customer loyalty calls for delivering goods and services better than its competition. Not a problem says Rupp as he ticks off the three key areas of concentration including delivering product specification, being responsive to customer needs, and creating product demand.
“These three key focus areas were determined by our customers in a customer loyalty survey we conducted earlier this year,” Rupp explains. “We are dedicated to not only helping our customers fill stores with their customers, but continually bringing them back again and again.”
An example of customer responsiveness comes from John O’Carroll, president, Cargill Value Added Products, on the CMS turkey business side. “We listen to our customers to find out how we can better meet their needs, then we work to make changes in our processes to improve our overall product,” he says. “A recent result was the upgrading of our case-ready packaging to decrease leakage and increase shelf life.”
Specifically, the turkey operation switched to “leak-proof” packaging for over-wrap and tray-pack products; converted to plastic pre-padded trays to improve package quality and integrity, and opted to produce a variety of modified atmosphere products ensuring convenience and shelf-life features.
“We offer our customers much more than a great turkey product,” O’Carroll boasts. “Our branded Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook Farms programs include a sophisticated marketing program. We redesigned the packaging for the two brands to increase shelf impact, readability, and appetite appeal. Research shows that consumers are more likely to buy our brand by twenty-eight percent.”
Creating demand for pork has taken Dirk Jones, president, Cargill Pork, and his team into new product-development frontiers and on the hunt for innovative technological processing tools.
“We have international customers looking for specialty items and other customers looking to provide niche items, such as antibiotic-free pork,” Jones confides. “We are listening to the needs of our customers and trying to provide products that meet their individual needs. We are constantly researching, evaluating, and implementing new technology in our plants. We also share ideas across all the proteins throughout the company and, many times, the industry [at large] to ultimately improve food safety and product quality.”
Disciplined growth is the ultimate goal of the new CMS initiative and expectations of annually delivering an annual growth rate of between 10 and 12 percent. “It’s a work-in-progress,” Rupp emphasizes. “We know we need to execute the document [the primed-for-growth primer] to help create sales growth for our customers. That means employing measurement tactics throughout the process to ensure these new steps bring results.”
Tracking and analyzing data will guarantee CMS is moving in the right direction, Rupp concludes. “Ultimately our success rests with our employees by helping them embrace the philosophy that if better is possible, good is not enough,” he assesses. Rupp borrowed the quote, which he encountered on a billboard during one of his morning workout jogs. “I had no idea who authored the statement, but it spoke to me,” he says. “For us to achieve our goals, we all must work together and be engaged in the process. Our leadership approach focuses more on aspirations in our search for breakthrough growth, not on incremental progression, or piece-by-piece. We can’t be a business delivering a piece of red meat wrapped on a white tray. Consumers deserve better than that.”
Rupp knows that winning new customers can be easier than keeping them in today’s highly competitive environment. Successful relationships between processors and their retail and foodservice customers leave nothing to chance. It’s all about taking care of the details, which explains how CMS and Lombardi Brothers Meats retained its supplier relationship with Minneapolis-based Murray’s Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge — known as the “Home of the Silver Butter Knife Steak.”
The alarm sounded when Murray’s announced plans to switch from Sterling Silver beef supplied by CMS to an alternative premium beef supplier.
“We’re known for our beef,” explains Tim Murray, the restaurant’s general manager, noting that beef makes up 75- to 85-percent of the restaurant’s menu mix. “When we think we’ve discovered a great product at a great price, we owe it to ourselves and our customers to check it out.”
Predictably, that thinking put CMS and Lombardi representatives on the defensive, but their fast work saved the day.
Kevin Erickson, national account executive for Lombardi and a Sterling Silver brand meat specialist, worked with Tom Smarsh, one of the original CMS Sterling Silver brand specialists, in arranging a side-by-side tasting of three top quality premium products, including prime beef. After the tasting and a weeklong “test,” the Sterling Silver product emerged the winner across the board, Erickson reports.
“They yielded better for a lower finished cost,” Erickson says. “Cargill Meat Solutions had already proven that it could more consistently deliver against Murray’s very tight specifications. In addition, Cargill repeatedly demonstrated its commitment to us and Murray’s with special programs and promotions that support sales and bring in new customers.”  
For Tim Murray, the final decision was simple. “We always want to make sure we’re buying the best product available,” he concludes. “The other product we tested had excellent quality, but Sterling Silver served our needs better. When people come to Murray’s, they want to eat beef.  Lombardi’s service and Sterling Silver [beef] are two of the things we trust to make sure customers have a memorable eating experience that brings them back again.” NP