Cargill’s Triple Play
By Sam Gazdziak, Senior Editor
Three new brands produced in three top-of-the-line plants give Cargill Regional Beef a nationwide presence.
By themselves, the plants in Wyalusing, Pa., Fresno, Calif., and Milwaukee are all well-regarded beef processors that specialized in producing lean ground beef. When combined under the Cargill Regional Beef business unit, they are set to combine their collective resources and produce products with a national reach while maintaining the regional service that made them successful in the first place.
The idea for a Cargill Regional Beef unit began when Cargill Meat Solutions acquired Milwaukee’s Emmpak in 2003 and merged it with Taylor Packing Co., which had been acquired in 2001. In 2006, Cargill added a West Coast processor by buying Fresno Meats.
“They were three [similar] operations that specialized in sourcing lean ground beef and producing lean ground beef,” explains Mike Coleman, president of Cargill Regional Beef. “They had a very steady supply of cattle compared to many of our competitors, and they were all state-of-the-art businesses.” Most importantly, he adds, the three plants were located perfectly. “We have the ability to service overnight 130 million people across the country. That gives us a huge advantage,” he says.
With all the pieces in place, Cargill Regional Beef is launching three new brands, designed to provide both regional and national customers with high-quality beef products, produced to identical specifications at all three plants. Circle T Beef and Valley Tradition are both whole-muscle cuts to be sold business-to-business. Circle T Beef cuts are all-purpose beef, while the Valley Tradition cuts are graded and ungraded beef products. The third new brand, Meadowland Farms, is a ground beef brand that is the main focus of the new program. It is sold business-to-business, but it has a strong potential to be sold directly to consumers as well.
“Our main thrust for regional beef is lean ground beef. That’s our driver,” says John Jay, vice president of sales, Cargill Regional Beef. When it makes its way into the meat case at supermarkets, it will be the first national ground beef brand in the country.
The idea behind Cargill Regional Beef is to combine the advantages of regional and national companies, resulting in a win-win scenario for customers, Coleman says. “We’re focusing on the values that go with the three regional beef plants, and that is to deliver fast, fresh and safe product. At the same time, we have available the large, worldwide resources at Cargill,” he says.
Along with being able to reach a large population with overnight delivery, Cargill Regional Beef plants also can provide its customers with the freshest possible meat. John Zaner, sales team leader for the Eastern Region, points out that most of the beef produced in any of the plants will be delivered within a day. Each plant has a harvesting facility, so the ground beef and beef cuts will be coming from cattle harvested on-site 24 to 48 hours prior. By controlling the supply of beef, the plants offer an extended shelf life, as well as the ability to turn orders around quickly. “For the vast majority of our customers, we have less than a 30-hour lead time from order to delivery, which allows a lot of flexibility for product surges,” Zaner says.
Dave McDonald, ground beef product line manager, adds: “That helps a lot in keeping their inventories down, and in turn their shrink and out-of-stocks, so there is some economic advantage to being close to our customers.”
A case for case-ready
The Circle T Beef and Valley Tradition beef cuts and specialty meats will be sold throughout the foodservice category. The Meadowland Farms ground beef, which will have a retail focus, is the same product that the Cargill plants have always made, just with a new name and a new look. It can be produced in a variety of lean points with a variety of source grinds.
Meadowland Farms can also help meet demand in the form of case-ready ground beef. “With our customer base, there’s always potential for case-ready,” says Ivan Brown, ground beef brand manager, Cargill. “It’s not necessarily the solution for every customer, but we do see growth. Every year it’s growing, and we want to make sure we have a solution for a customer when they feel it’s part of their strategy.”
The three plants all have the capability to package ground beef in a variety of formats. Currently, all three can produce large retail chubs, and the Fresno and Milwaukee facilities can also produce small case-ready chubs. Wyalusing will get the equipment to do the same during this fiscal year. Additionally, all three plants can produce both a high-oxygen (high-ox) and a low-oxygen (low-ox) case-ready ground beef package.
“That speaks to our flexibility,” Coleman points out. “We can pretty much be a one-stop shop for all those kinds of product lines in ground beef.”
Zaner says that the regional advantages of the three plants really become important when considering the case-ready goods. For customers using the high-ox products, he says, “There’s only 11 days of usability on the product once it’s made. So for us to be able to turn customers’ orders around and deliver product in less than 30 hours, and then another 24 hours to deliver to distribution chains, it maximizes their shelf life and their salability.”
Coleman says that there are other case-ready facilities that can provide an identical sell-by date, but those plants do not produce their own raw materials and have to have their beef trim delivered instead. “No matter how you square it up, the product in our package will always be fresher product.”
Jay points out the opportunities in case-ready ground beef that can take the Meadowland Farms brand straight to the consumer. “We have a case-ready chub capability, and many times when you enter a store, you see some retailers that represent their ground beef and have part of their line in some kind of case-ready chub. That is a consumer-facing type of opportunity, [and so is] our case-ready modified-atmosphere type of packaging,” he says. “We believe that working with targeted customers on their case-ready needs will help us bring this brand further than just business-to-business.”
Cargill does have other case-ready facilities around the country, and John Keating has been the head of that business unit. Coleman has announced his own retirement, scheduled for next year, and Keating will take over as the head of the Cargill Regional Beef unit.
“Already, John and I are seeing more synergies than we thought we would ever see associated with having one head on the body, relative to the case-ready plants and Cargill Regional Beef,” Coleman says. “So that’s going to be an even bigger advantage for our customers as we move on down that road and get more familiar with the needs of the Cargill Regional Beef units, the case-ready facilities and the needs in the case-ready business unit.”
In with the new
The three new brands debuted in July, but preparation has been going on for much longer. Even though the three plants had been producing these products for years, finding the right brand names to properly convey the message of the products inside the box required extensive consumer research. The Meadowland Farms logo was created to not only symbolize freshness but also to have a regional feel.
Jay notes that the other two brand names reference the past businesses of the regional plants. “Valley Tradition was formulated from one of the brands in the Fresno business, and the Circle T Beef logo is really a permutation of the Taylor ‘T’ that’s been around for many decades. We wanted to bring the legacy in and be new as well,” he explains.
Considerable communication has already taken place between the existing Cargill Regional Beef customers and management, and it will continue beyond the products’ launch.
Although the new launch did involve the phasing out of some long-standing regional brand names, the company believes its customers will soon see the advantages of having national brands provided by regional specialists.
“It’s like aligning the benefits within each of the brands and then matching them up with the customer needs,” says Brown. “Many customers are excited. Since ground beef plays such a large role [in retail], I believe the customers are excited about the potential for case-ready, and we’ll support them with a case-ready program.”
Coleman lauds Brown and the others in the regional business unit for the work they have put into creating the brands and the launch. He calls it an exciting time for the company and believes that the Meadowland Farms brand especially will strengthen the meat cases of grocery stores.
“While I’m really excited by it, my only disappointment is that I’m probably not going to be here to see the major impact of it,” he says.