Hidden Gems: An Industry Solution
Barbara Young
I am in the mood for romance. There are many definitions for this warm-and-fuzzy word. Luckily, my computer dictionary pinpoints a manageable number, one of which serves my purposes for the message I intend to herewith impart. Romance: A particular fascination or enthusiasm for something, especially of an uncritical or inexplicable kind.
No good romance succeeds without a bit of wooing. The objects of my desire are meat, poultry, and prepared food companies that operate under the radar by choice or happenstance. We call them hidden gems because their substantial contributions to the overall health and wealth of the food industry go unrecognized more often than not. This should not be.
Who can disregard the many product-development innovations and advancements in technology at the plant level that come from small and mid-sized food processors? Remember, Bill Gates was not always the tycoon he is today.
We are on the hunt for developing and emerging superstars as grist for our section called Hidden Gems, debuting this month. Our goal is to spotlight processors on the cutting edge and detail some of the marketing and manufacturing maneuvers that define their accomplishments, such as financial and marketing gains among other breakthroughs.
I frequently ask people to tell me about their best days during my interviews. My memory bank is filled with predictable answers and some that surprise me. I have heard that the best days are those with no employee injuries or when there was nothing for a customer to complain about. One executive said the best day is when he opens the door to his home to find his visiting grandson waiting for his arrival. The boy runs into his outstretched arms with squeals of delight. “All that stuff at the office that got me down that day just melts away,” he said.
Some of my best days have brought unsolicited feature story candidates to my attention. Calihan Pork Processors of Peoria, IL, comes to mind.
A couple years ago, Tom Landon called to tell me about the company’s unusual niche as a producer of pre-rigor pork for fresh sausage for sausage-making customers such as Johnsonville and Hillshire Farms.
With your help, we intend to dig for these kinds of gems like marine divers scour the sea for pearl oysters.  
I have seen how resourceful the industry is at solving problems — especially at the plant level — whether it’s coming up with in-house equipment designs or finding novel ways to ensure employee satisfaction.
My dad used to say that it’s a sorry dog that won’t lift its own tail. Translated this means that self-nominations for our Hidden Gems section are most welcome. Our success at gathering the best information depends a great deal upon access.
I await your invitations.