Colorado All-Stars
by Sam Gazdziak, Senior Editor

Mile-high meat processing … with a nice view.
Colorado instantly conjures up images of the Rocky Mountains, skiing and some of the best scenery that the country has to offer. But while the state’s recreational opportunities are well-known, the state also feeds, slaughters, processes and ships a sizable portion of the beef and sheep products on the marketplace.
A number of processors, both large and small, make their home in the Centennial State. It’s a natural location for them, considering the amount of raw material in the state. “We have a fairly large cattle-feeding industry,” says Dr. John Scanga, associate professor and meat extension specialist at Colorado State University. “We’ve also got the largest sheep-feeding industry, so we’ve got a pretty heavy concentration of livestock in the state of Colorado.”
Weld County, the home of Greeley-based Swift & Co., is the largest agricultural county in the state in terms of cash receipts, with 2,200 farms and 31 percent of local employment related to agriculture. Close to half the state’s cattle population is located there. It ranks in the top five counties nationwide for the amount of agricultural products sold, and is the top county in livestock, lamb and poultry. According to the Greeley Chamber of Commerce, agribusiness contributes more than $1 billion to the local economy.
Some of the largest meat processors in the country are headquartered or have a facility in Colorado, but it’s not just the large processors that benefit from being located there. Scanga notes that small custom processors are often booked three or four months in advance with work. “There’s a strong population base that is still a little bit closer to agriculture than the surrounding areas of a lot of metropolitan cities, especially up and down the Front Range and out in the eastern plains of the state.”
He adds that it is still a common thing for a person to participate in county fair livestock auctions or purchase an animal from friends or neighbors, and then they take the animal to the local locker for slaughtering and custom processing.
Mark Otteman, president of Otteman’s Inc. Meat Processing, located in Flagler, notes the benefits that smaller custom processors have in dealing with individual customers. “They’re looking for a safe product,” he says. “They like knowing where it’s coming from and how it’s been handled. We’re cutting it up to their specifications, and they enjoy that, where they can stock a freezer from our product and have it cut exactly how they want it done.”
Otteman is treasurer of the Colorado Association of Meat Processors, an association of about 35 meat processors, most of which are involved in custom processing. The members are a mix of federally inspected plants and smaller, custom-exempt facilities. Regardless of the type of inspections the plants undertake, some of them need help with compliance issues and other needs. Otteman says that they can get that assistance from Colorado’s academic world. “We have a pretty good working relationship with the professors at Colorado State University,” he says, adding that Scanga is the association’s technical advisor and participates in association conventions.
Scanga says that CSU’s meat science program and the Center for Red Meat Safety provides a number of services to processors, in and out of Colorado. “What we’re able to help them do is translate the science that is developed to how they can apply that on the line,” he explains, adding that the department can help develop programs to better food safety, product quality, hazard analysis critical control points (HACCP) programs. Smaller plants can get help with everything from responding to non-compliance reports to developing a business strategy for an expansion.
Along with the immediate presence of good educational institutions and plenty of livestock around, Scanga notes the proximity of trade associations and other allied industries as an advantage for meat processors. He adds that the scenery is pretty impressive as well. “It’s often easy to recruit people to come work here, just because you can offer them a lifestyle that’s serene, and there are lots of outdoor activities. It really is a place where people want to live.
“The only problem,” he adds, laughing, “is that [sometimes] you get people who come out here and spend more time living than working.”
American Sheep Industry Association
Englewood, Colo.

Founded: 1989
Number of employees: 9
Key executives: Paul Frischknecht, president; Burdell Johnson, vice president; Glen Fisher, secretary treasurer
The ASI is the national trade association for the sheep industry, representing the interests of more than 68,000 U.S. sheep producers who, as of July 2006, were raising approximately 7.8 million sheep. The issues addressed by ASI fall into one of five categories: wool, lamb, legislative, resource management, and research, education and production. “The heart and soul of ASI are the thousands of farm and ranch families across America who raise sheep,” says Peter Orwick, executive director.
It was created from the merger of the American Sheep Producers Council (ASPC) and the National Wool Growers Association (NWGA), both of which were located in Colorado. The NWGA was formed in 1865, making it the country’s oldest national livestock association. The ASPC was among the first national livestock checkoff programs, created in 1955. “Then, as now, the majority of sheep are produced in the West, so producers believed it is important that their national office be in the West,” Orwick says.
Orwick notes that Colorado has the largest concentration of lamb-feeding operations in the world. Two of the nation’s largest lamb-packing/processing companies are also located in the state. “Colorado Lamb” has wide brand-name recognition across the United States, he adds.
Orwick notes that Colorado offers many advantages for companies involved in sheep processing. “The climate and the proximity of the sheep to feed sources make Colorado a great place to be located. Since feeding and processing go hand-in-hand, it makes sense that if one is located here, the other is also.”
Cargill Meat Solutions
Wichita, Kan.
Founded: 1936
Number of employees: 33,000 worldwide; 1,900 in Colorado
Key executive: Tom Hayes, president
Cargill Meat Solutions is one of the largest fresh, frozen and value-added beef, pork and turkey suppliers in the country. The business is a subsidiary of Cargill Inc., an international provider of food, agricultural and risk management products and services. With 149,000 employees in 63 countries, Cargill is committed to using its knowledge and experience to collaborate with customers to help them succeed.
Cargill Meat Solutions produces a variety of value-added beef, pork and turkey products for its customers. It has a wide range of brands, both consumer-facing and business-to-business. “We base our brands off of consumer insights, so we know that we are creating products that meet the consumers’ needs,” says Mike Chabot, vice president and general manager for the company’s Fort Morgan, Colo., facility.
At that location, about 15 to 20 percent of the production qualifies for Cargill’s premium brands, including Sterling Silver® Premium Meats (beef and pork), AngusPride® Premium Beef and Certified Angus Beef. “A lot of the cattle that comes into Fort Morgan is highly marbled and meets those brands’ specific requirements,” Chabot explains.
The most recent addition to the Fort Morgan plant came in 2004, when it added a new harvesting floor. At the time, Cargill decided to renovate the harvesting floor at each of its five cattle-fed plants to accommodate food-safety interventions, worker ergonomics and animal welfare. Chabot says that the company learned as it built each floor. “Although our Fort Morgan plant was the last plant to receive the renovation, I think we may have benefited the most, because our plant was able to include the most up-to-date technological advancements and improvements from all the other harvesting floors,” he notes.
The new floor uses Cargill’s hide-on carcass wash system, which reduces the microbial load on each animal. Chabot adds that Dr. Temple Grandin worked with the company to develop best practices for the animal-handling procedures.
Another strong benefit, Chabot points out that the Fort Morgan plant was the first Cargill plant and one of the first in the industry to capture and recycle its methane gases, helping to decrease pollution and control the smell from the plant. “We burn the gases in our boilers and use it to help heat the plant,” he explains.
The ground beef room is completely walled off from the rest of the plant and has its own air-filtration system to prevent the spread of bacteria. The room was the basis for ground beef rooms at the other Cargill plants. “We have a computer monitoring station, which helps us ensure lean points as well as other critical points for producing great-tasting ground beef,” Chabot says.
The Fort Morgan plant was built in Colorado in 1965, and Chabot says the location is ideal. Being about an hour away from Denver, that city’s shopping and sporting events are very convenient. “Also, Fort Morgan is a wonderful place to raise a family, as lots of our employees have found. It’s a great, quiet community,” he says. Noting that the town is also surrounded by five ski mountains, he adds, “Where else can you have this kind of view and accessibility to a major metropolitan city?”
Coleman Natural Foods LLC
Golden, Colo.
Founded: 1979
Number of employees: 2,300
Key executives: George Chivari, CEO; Dan Keefe, chief administrative officer; Leon Trautwein, CFO; Chuck Fletcher, chief marketing officer; Mel Coleman Jr., chairman
Coleman Natural Foods is the leading U.S. processor, marketer and distributor of fresh and further-processed natural and organic proteins. It offers its products to food retailers, foodservice operators, schools and institutions across the country under the following brand names: Coleman Natural, Coleman Organic, Coleman All Natural Deli, Rocky the Range Chicken, Rocky Jr.®, Rosie the Organic Chicken, Hans’ All Natural and Hans’ Organic. The company also offers the Kings Delight, Clux Delux, Lake Lanier Farms, Anchor Bar, Executive Chef and Snowball brands.
Coleman’s newest product is the Coleman Natural Hampshire Pork™ line of fresh natural pork. The company is promising five-star-restaurant quality pork by combining the best possible animal husbandry methods with its all-natural standards. The Hampshire breed is a heritage breed, and 19 family farmers have been selected for Coleman’s program.
Coleman is the only company in the United States to offer a multi-species line of meat, poultry and prepared meals, notes Robyn Nick, director of communications and cause marketing. It was formed by combining six leaders in the natural and organic meat industry: Petaluma Poultry, Gerhard’s Sausage, Coleman Natural Meats, B3R, Penn Valley Farms and Pennfield Farms, in 2002 and 2003. The company’s headquarters are in Golden, Colo., along with a beef-processing plant in Denver and a beef slaughterhouse in Limon. It employs nearly 300 employees in Colorado at those locations. The company also has facilities in Chicago, Fredericksburg, Pa., Williamstown, N.J., Gainesville, Ga., and Petaluma, Calif.
Coleman’s roots in Colorado are very deep, Nick says. “In 1979, Mel Coleman Sr., a Colorado rancher who owned a small beef company, approached the U.S. Department of Agriculture with an entirely new product concept: natural beef.” At the time, she adds, no food, meat or otherwise, was referred to as “natural.” It took two years of work with the USDA before the natural label was approved.
“Today, Colorado offers a healthy, active lifestyle to its residents, and the Front Range is regarded as the center of the natural and organic industry,” Nick says. “Colorado offers businesses an excellent environment to grow and a wonderful environment for its residents to live and work.”
For more than two decades, Coleman has advocated sustainable resources, and on Arbor Day 2005, it launched the Coleman Eco-Project 2015, a decade-long conservation program. The goal of the project is to plant millions of trees and protect millions of acres of working farms and ranches in the United States over the next 10 years. Coleman has developed long-term working partnerships with the U.S. Forest Service and the non-profit organizations American Forests and American Farmland Trust to achieve these goals.
“Nearly 300,000 trees have already been planted in eight states as a result of its 2005 efforts on behalf of the Coleman Eco-Project 2015,” Nick says.
National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA)
Centennial, Colo.
Founded: 1996
Number of employees: 133
Key executives: Terry Stokes, CEO; Ellen Gibson, executive director, new product initiatives; Steve Wald, associate director, new product development
The NCBA is an organization that represents the nearly one million beef producers in America. It has two divisions. The Federation Division is funded by The Beef Checkoff and the Federation of State Beef Councils, and it conducts research, communications, issues management and consumer promotions to increase the return on investment of America’s beef products. Through The Beef Checkoff, the Beef Innovations Group (BIG) is a team of marketers, scientists, culinary professionals, operations experts and product-development professionals who serve as a resource for companies and organizations interested in developing new beef and veal products or enhancing current products.
The other division is the Policy Division, located in Washington, D.C. It is funded solely through non-checkoff revenue sources, such as membership and other dues-paying sources, and it works to better the business climate and environment for beef producers.
NCBA’s offices are located in Colorado in order to be centrally located within the “beef belt,” says Mark Thomas, vice president, global marketing. “Colorado has been and still is a key hub in the meat-processing business and is centrally located to fill the needs of consumers both domestically and internationally,” he explains. “All aspects of the production cycle, from ranchers and feed lots to major packers, processors and distribution channels are located here.”
Thomas relocated from Chicago to Denver in 1999 along with his wife, and he says the two have covered thousands of miles exploring the state. “The beauty that this state offers and the close proximity to its vast recreational opportunities is cherished by me and my staff,” he says.
Swift & Co.
Greeley, Colo.
Founded: 1855
Number of employees: 20,200
Key executives: Sam Rovit, president and CEO; Dennis Henley, COO; John Keir, CEO, Swift Australia/Australia Meat Holdings; Raymond Silcock, executive vice president, CFO; Kevin Yost, executive vice president, customers and supply chain; Martin Dooley, executive vice president, margin management; Ted Miller, executive vice president, operations.
With more than $9 billion in annual sales, Swift & Co. is the world’s second-largest processor of fresh beef and pork. Founded in 1855 and headquartered in Greeley, Swift processes, prepares, packages, markets and delivers fresh, further-processed and value-added beef and pork products to customers in the United States and international markets. It also has the largest market share of Australian cattle, providing global opportunities that other companies cannot. “[Swift has] a 150-year heritage and corporate brand recognized by many generations for quality, consistency and safety,” notes Sean McHugh, vice president, investor relations and communications.
Swift offers industry-leading employee and food safety practices, he adds. The company’s centralized location also offers several advantages, as its beef plants “are located in the heart of premium, Midwestern grain-fed beef country,” he adds. That beef includes a percentage of premium Angus cattle that is higher than the industry-average percentage.
Swift’s plants utilize innovative in-plant, inline sliced beef and pork programs, delivering high yields through its precise processing. Along with its processing ability, Swift offers comprehensive marketing support for its premium programs and its customers.
Colorado is the original home of Swift’s predecessor company, Monfort Beef, and its headquarters are still located there. The company’s research and development facility, The Summit Customer and Innovator Center is incorporated within the headquarters. Other facilities in Colorado include a fed cattle processing facility in Greeley, which processes 3,400 head per day, a Greeley lamb-slaughtering facility that processes 4,000 head per day, and a distribution center located in Denver. McHugh notes that its centralized plant locations “optimize transportation options and help to reduce costs.”
Being located in the heart of cattle country, McHugh says that Colorado offers an outstanding labor pool with the strong Midwestern work ethic. He calls the state a “great location to attract and retail top industry talent based on exceptional quality of life and nearby recreational opportunities.”
He adds that Swift has the ability to partner with the renowned agriculture and meat science programs at Colorado State University, which is located in nearby Ft. Collins.
Birko Corp.
Henderson, Colo.
Birko Corp. has been formulating and manufacturing cleaning and sanitation chemicals since 1952. Birko provides a wide range of equipment such as bulk delivery systems, computerized blending/tracking systems, chemical and sanitizing dispensers, entryway disinfecting systems, hand- and foot-washing control equipment and water-flow control systems. The company also offers a team of HACCP specialists available for on-site consultations, third-party audits and clean-room consulting.
Birko has a reputation for unsurpassed service and commitment to the research and development of new and improved quality products. Its staff of chemists, engineers, microbiologists and sales representatives is focused on servicing the food industry throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and South America. The company is large enough to handle high-volume requirements while providing a quality package of service and products.
Birko has more than 10 years of experience in the brewing industry, and among its developments is a conversion coating process for stainless steel and copper that leaves the metal surface cleaner and more protected at the same time. The company’s corporate office and a chemical blending facility are located in Henderson.
Matrix MicroScience Inc.
Golden, Colo.
Matrix manufactures and distributes test kits that facilitate the capture and detection of pathogens from a food matrix. The company uses the well-known principle of immuno-magnetic separation, in which antibodies to specific pathogens are bound onto a magnetic bead, to find the proverbial “needle in the haystack” before the pathogen is detected and identified by other methods, such as agar plating.
Matrix first tests an entire 25 gram + 225 mL sample instead of a small 1mL or less sub-sample. Secondly, it recirculates the sample many times so that, statistically, it has a greater chance of capturing the target pathogen. The way the test is performed greatly reduces the inadvertent capture of non-target bacteria. Matrix notes that its system is the only one in the world that operates this way, filling a need in the testing of foodborne pathogens.
Matrix MicroScience was founded in 2000 and employs more than 50 people. Its U.S. and Canadian headquarters is headquartered in Golden. The office is responsible for sales and distribution of product, all associated marketing and promotional activities and all customer support functions.
Meritech Inc., a division of ICON Systems LLC
Golden, Colo.
Meritech’s employee hygiene equipment is currently in use by thousands of companies worldwide, in many different markets and industries and in response to diverse infection threats and compliance needs. Our systems eliminate or reduce the threat of many different types of infections in many different environments, including infection from foodborne illnesses like E. coli and Hepatitis A in the food-processing industry. Meritech’s CleanTech systems are easy to use and part of essential best practices that create standardization, universal compliance and eliminate the inconsistency that comes with manual hand-washing. An employee simply inserts his or her hands into the washers. The wash, sanitization and rinse are automatic. The employee then removes his or her hands when the wash is complete and dries them with a paper towel. The process reduces more than 99.96 percent of harmful pathogens from hands.
Meritech outgrew its Centennial, Colo., facility and moved into its new location in Golden this November. All facets of the business, including corporate, sales, manufacturing and distribution are based there.
Fort Collins, Colo.
Optibrand®’s innovative solutions couple biometric identification with global positioning system satellite information in an easy-to-use patented process for Secure Source Validation™ of livestock. The system can record any animal indicator — radio-frequency tags, retinal vascular patterns, bar-code tags and visual tags. Animal production information also is easily entered into the OptiReader® device. The information is tamper-proof and stamped with GPS time, date and location.
Combined with Optibrand Data Management Software, no other traceability solution creates as much confidence and trust in customers, buyers and consumers, says Jenny Brown, product sales manager.
“Accuracy, security and versatility are combined in Optibrand’s Secure Processor Solution,” she says. “This innovative system creates the critical link between live animal and carcass identification methodologies.” That integration also offers opportunities in logistics and differentiated product marketing.
Brown notes that Colorado is a central location for conducting work in all sectors of the livestock industry and has thriving technology industries. “This convergence of agriculture and technology creates an ideal climate for businesses that transfer high technology to agriculture production,” she adds. Components of Optibrand’s core technology were developed by faculty at Colorado State University.