Tradition and Trailblazing
By Sam Gazdziak, Senior Editor
Using traditional and cutting-edge processing methods, J Bar B Foods offers sausages in hundreds of flavors, shapes, and sizes.
There aren’t many companies in the meat-processing industry that can process a million pounds of product a week and still think of themselves as a butcher shop. But J Bar B Foods of Waelder, TX, can produce large or small batches of its branded or private-label sausage while still catering to its customers’ needs.
From traditional smoked sausages in links, rings or cocktail-sized, to sausages made of vegetables or rice (the Louisiana boudin sausage), to taco fillings and barbecue brisket, there is very little J Bar B can’t offer.
“There’s probably well over three hundred fifty [items] that are active,” says Lyndell Bisbee, vice president of operations. “By active, I mean we regularly produce those.” Those items originate from 124 separate formulas, which can be altered or made in different shapes, to account for the 350-plus items.
J Bar B has been owned and operated by the Janecka family since its start in 1959. Danny Janecka, chief executive officer, is the son of the founders. His son, Danny II, serves as vice president. The company started by producing smoked sausages and has grown and expanded ever since.
“I started with J Bar B about fourteen years ago,” says Shawn Brammall, director of technical services. “We were hard-pressed to run eighty-thousand pounds a week.” The goal at the time, he adds, was to jump to 120,000 pounds a week. Now the company has been running at an average of a million pounds a week, and that was during the fall and winter, which normally has been the offseason for Texas sausage makers.
Last year, J Bar B achieved 17 percent growth, and is poised for more than 20 percent growth in 2006. J Bar B’s production abilities have been greatly boosted with the addition of a new, state-of-the-art facility in nearby Weimar, TX (see sidebar).
“We have the capacity for almost two million pounds a week, with the new plant,” says Danny Janecka. “As we sit right now today, we could produce one-point-seven million pounds of product in five days without any brick and mortar. In six days, we could do two million pounds.”
The company’s product is roughly divided between its branded products, its private-label business, and its co-packing business. Branded products are sold under a variety of labels, including “J Bar B Foods,” “Texas Smokehouse,” “Singletree Farms,” “Cajun Hollar,” and “Chefs-In-A-Bag.” It also produces products endorsed by football legend Earl Campbell, boxer Jesse James Leija, and NASCAR’s Richard Childress.
The Weimar plant, with its co-extrusion and cook-in-package processes, is the most modern sausage production facility in the country. Its focus is on ringed sausages, from 14-ounce to one-pound products, or links from 14 to 40 ounces. By comparison, the Waelder plant, which is 120,000 square feet in size, is more of a traditional facility with natural animal casings and natural wood smokehouses. The use of the word “traditional” does need a disclaimer, however. Although the outside of the building may be about 100 years old, there is very little on the inside that is older than five years old. It produces skinless and natural-casing sausages, from cocktail sizes to large bulk ropes, as well as the barbecue and other specialty products.
“You hear us talking about the conventional way or the Old World way to make sausage,” says Shane Brammall, IT manager. “But here in Waelder, we still have the most state-of-the-art sausage-making equipment in the U.S. Yes, the co-extrusion system is the latest thing, and a superior way of making sausage. But all of our conventional sausage-making machines are all new.”
“I think the smokehouses are the oldest things we have in the plant,” Bisbee adds, “but the insides of them are all new. We’re operating with microprocessors, and we have eight probes inside the house, monitoring the conditions.”
The company’s approach to renovation and reinvention is, when seven-day-a week production is required for several months on end, it’s time to look at a way to change the operations. That could include new equipment, new concepts, or new layouts that would get production back to five days a week.
J Bar B’s production abilities need to be tight, because the company produces so many products. It is one of the largest processors of ring sausage, which makes it an attractive private labeler to the largest companies. It also can produce links in a variety of sizes, all the way down to cocktail sausages.
“Being able to produce the larger links and rings, going down to the cocktail size, most companies can’t do that,” notes Chris Tebo, marketing director. “They’d have to shift their production focus. Being able to produce all items like that every single day is a very strong feature.”
The variety of product goes well beyond sausage size. On any given day, the Waelder plant can produce 100-percent chicken sausage, turkey sausage, beef sausage, a pork-and-beef combination sausage, vegetable sausage, and rice sausage.
Bisbee explains that the company is able to coordinate all that production by producing mass batches of about 11 base blends. “Those can then explode into the one hundred twenty-four formulas, and from those formulas you go into the size, the shape, and the spice pack, and that’s where we get the three hundred fifty [stock-keeping units]. We can sit on inventories of blends and buy our meats based on the blends. We can make a decision basically within hours. If somebody wants two thousand pounds [of sausage], then we can do that.”
Bisbee relates the story of a customer that invited J Bar B to participate in its private-label program. J Bar B was one of three companies that were invited to submit samples, which the customer wanted within two weeks. “We got our samples together and sent them, and we were the only company to do it within the two weeks. We secured that business,” he says. “It’s a significant business, and the other companies were not able to return it and meet the demands of the customer.”
Spicing up production
One of the keys to J Bar B’s success is the fact that it has its own spice operation. “Owning our own spice company allows us to turn around quickly and meet customer specifications. We can match their products perfectly, so it makes it easy for them to do business with us,” notes Ron Bushaw, president.
J Bar B started Central Texas Ingredients about seven years ago as a wholesale spice company. Its main mission then was to buy spices and resell them to J Bar B. “But in doing that, we started to sell spices to other small sausage and manufacturing facilities around,” Janecka recalls.
Central Texas Ingredients moved to a 22,000-square-foot building in Gonzales, TX, which was later expanded to 75,000 square feet. The company does all the spice blending and formulating there, as well as the grinding of its own pepper.
“About three or four years ago, we purchased a retail spice operation, which was Adams Extract and Spices,” Janecka continues. Central Texas Ingredients is now the institutional sales arm of Adams. Through the combination of the two companies, J Bar B has a full spice operation, from product development to retail and wholesale sales.
“Suppose we were using a spice company out of New York City,” Janecka explains, “[and] a customer calls in and says they’ve got to have a hundred thousand pounds [of product] to run a promotion, and they want to do it in thirty days. It may take three or four weeks to get the spice blended and delivered here from New York. Now, Lyndell can make the call to the spice plant, and we can have it tomorrow if we have to.”
With the availability of many kinds of spices and blends, J Bar B is able to produce sausage to match any taste profile. Being a Texas-based sausage company, a sausage with garlic and black pepper is a traditional favorite. But J Bar B’s products, from its branded items to its private-label products, are enjoyed nationwide.
“We did the new Richard Childress sausage, and we specifically designed the taste profiles for the Southeast market,” Shawn Brammall says. “We did pure pork, which is kind of unique to the Southeast market. We use a sage-smoked sausage type of profile. Our Earl Campbell product is really uniquely Texas. It is a hot link, but it’s not like the Louisiana hot link with the onions, garlic, and peppers. It’s a smoked sausage that is morespicy than hot.
“What’s interesting is that the Earl Campbell product has been accepted in other places, because it was really designed as a regional sausage,” he continues. Earl Campbell sausages, which can be found throughout the South from Texas to the Carolinas, is the company’s largest brand, accounting for 18 percent of J Bar B’s overall sales.
The key ingredient
Waelder, with a population of slightly less than 1,000 and Weimar, with about 2,000 residents, are located in Central Texas, between San Antonio, Austin, and Houston. J Bar B’s executives live all over Texas and commute, either on a daily or weekly basis. Combined, J Bar B’s management has well over 100 years of experience in the meat industry.
“I have strived over the past 10 or 15 years to get the best people in the industry to work for me,” Janecka says. “I’ve done a good job of convincing some people to come here and work for me, like Ron, like Lyndell, like Shawn. That’s a large part of our success, being able to lure these kinds of people to run our operation. And they run it; I just direct it.” NP