Meats Made to Order

By Sam Gazdziak, Senior Editor

Ed Miniat Inc. has tailored itself to become a standout in the custom meat processing business.

Unlike most processors, Ed Miniat Inc. doesn't have a product list. It would be far too long. But think of any kind of product that can be made from whole-muscle meat, and the odds are good that the company can produce it.
Catering to multi-unit national restaurant chains and frozen-food manufacturers requiring meat ingredients, Ed Miniat Inc. can produce a variety of slow-cooked meats — beef, pork, poultry, lamb and veal — in a variety of forms, including sliced, diced, pulled, left on the bone or left alone.
Throughout its 100-year-plus history, Ed Miniat Inc. has adapted from a boxed-beef processor to a leader in the custom meat-processing market. Without a conventional line of products, the company has developed a talent for versatility and flexibility.
“It's an exciting time to be in the food business,” says Dave Miniat, president of the company and great-grandson of the founder. “Our business today is a changing business, and it changes faster and faster. There are [new] flavors, profiles and hot trends that are changing constantly.”
The company's roots go back to the 1890s in Chicago , when Michael Miniat immigrated to the United States from Lithuania and took a job working in the Chicago meatpacking district. He soon bought a wagon and some horses and began purchasing meat from the packers, distributing it through the city's neighborhoods. The business soon grew to several trucks, and finally to a leased plant in Chicago in the 1950s, when Ed Miniat Sr., Michael Miniat's son, was running the business. The company was first incorporated in 1957. “Throughout the 1960's and 1970's, the business really expanded under the leadership of my father, Ron, and uncle, Ed. We were a typical wholesale meatpacking company. We'd buy carcass beef and fabricate it,” Dave Miniat says, noting that the company was among the first to be involved in boxed beef.
The company continued in the boxed-beef business for a number of years, until new competition emerged with plants built in close proximity to the animals. Instead of stepping backward and slaughtering cattle, the company moved forward into value-added meats.. Mike Miniat, Dave 's older brother, joined the company in 1979, and started cooking meat. Dave joined three years later, in 1982, and they found a niche in providing cooked meats produced to the customers' specifications. The customized meat-processing niche was especially appealing to large processors of frozen foods that included meats as entrée ingredients. Ed Miniat, Inc. ceased their boxed beef operations in 1985.
“The opportunity arose, and we were perfect at it, because we were young, creative, aggressive and flexible. We were all the things these processors needed,” Miniat recalls. “That's where the custom processing started, because no other cooked meat company was providing these products.”
The cooked-meat side of the business continued to grow until the company shut down its boxed-beef processing in 1985 to concentrate on custom processing.
“We've developed great relationships and have had great successes for almost 25 years,” Miniat says. “Our role is to design creative meat ingredients that meet our customers' needs and provide them the opportunity to differentiate their products and gain share in the marketplace.”
Custom talents
As it doesn't have a conventional line of products, Ed Miniat Inc. faces some challenges that other processors don't. For one thing, Dave Miniat says, “because we customize products for unique applications, and with a particular customer in mind, it is very important to monitor all the inventories necessary to make that product. If the product is extremely successful, we must have supplies on hand to ramp up production immediately. On the other hand, if sales are less than projected, we have no other home for excess inventories.”
The company handles the fundamentals very well, Miniat says, noting that the company's expertise in “blocking and tackling” stems from the company's history.
“We've always had a culture and a value system that really prides itself on being creative and satisfying the customers' needs,” he points out. “We strive to exceed our customers' expectations.”
The company's facility in South Holland , Ill. , plays a role. The state-of-the-art processing plant replaced a facility in Colorado and one in Chicago , both of which previously had been acquired and converted into cooked-meat operations.
“The current plant, built in 1995, is designed as a cooked meat operation with a focus on food safety.” Miniat also notes the importance of the company's employees. There are many families who have been employed by Ed Miniat Inc. for generations. The company's innovation comes from all areas of the company and not just the research and development teams.
“We have people in our plants who have been processing value-added meats for 25 years, and they continue to bring new ideas to the table” he says.
Creativity and flexibility is important in our operations, which is why a great deal of the machinery is on wheels. “We pride ourselves within the plant to take traditional pieces of equipment and modify them to create unique products,” Miniat adds. “We also combine equipment to produce different products.”
Along with the South Holland plant, the company still owns a facility that it acquired in 1972 when it purchased South Chicago Packing Co. It was used for cooking until the South Holland plant was built, and it is still used for some cooking processes and as a backup for the other plant. Primarily, it is used for an edible rendering business that operates as Miniat Oils. That company produces a number of refined fats and oils for use in the food industry, as well as non-food uses like candles and fabric softener.
Between the two companies, there are several hundred employees. Due to the tenure of its employees and the family atmosphere within the company, Miniat says that he feels like a steward of the business.
“There are a lot of people whose livelihood depend on the success of the company, so that continues to motivate me. I want to leave it in better shape than when I started, and that's what all the generations have done in my family.”
The Miniat brand
Ed Miniat Inc. employs an executive research chef as a part of its R&D team. “Years ago, we determined that having culinary expertise is critical to our growth,” Miniat explains. That team, as well as the rest of the company's employees, tries to identify hot trends while taking into account their customers' existing product lines.
“We look and see what our customers don't have and may be missing, and then we match that up with these trends to provide offerings that would differentiate them and create products that others don't have,” he says.
Having a culinary expertise also pays off when a customer comes to them with a product that was developed in a test kitchen. The company is then able to take that product, find a way to commercialize it, and maintain the same level of quality and consistency that is needed.
Only once in the company's long history has it ever offered retail products under the Miniat name. When the company was first getting involved in value-added meats, it offered a selection of deli meats to supermarket chains. Miniat says that getting into that business now would not be in keeping with the company's core competencies.
“We're manufacturers with an expertise in creating products that provide our customer's a competitive advantage” he reiterates. “Many of our customers are experts in marketing and branding within the retail and foodservice markets. Our role is to provide products that enable them to successfully build their business.”
“We really believe we've developed a presence within our marketplace as a dependable supplier that provides quality and value.
Fact Box:
Ed Miniat Inc.
Founded in the late 1800's (incorporated as Ed Miniat Inc in 1957)
Headquarters: South Holland , Ill.
Facilities: Headquarters/processing and cooking plant in South Holland ; meat cooking and rendering of fats and oils in Chicago facility