New Protein Chief Gives Hormel Prime Opportunity

By The National Provisioner staff

Q&A with Gary Ray, new president of Hormel Foods’ protein business.
On July 26, 2007, Hormel Foods announced the promotion of Gary Ray to president, protein business, creating a new opportunity for the company to increase the focus of that division. In a company release, Jeffrey Ettinger, chairman, president and CEO of Hormel Foods, said Ray’s promotion creates an excellent opportunity for the business.
“We are confident that this new structure will provide greater focus, fresh perspective and enhanced coordination across the company’s diverse protein businesses,” Ettinger said in the release.
Ray, who was previously the executive vice president of refrigerated products for Hormel, shared with The National Provisioner his goals and thoughts on his new role and his company just a couple months into the job:
The National Provisioner: Briefly summarize your goals as president of Hormel Foods’ protein business unit.
Gary Ray: As president of Hormel Foods Protein Business Units, my main goals are to better leverage our business in turkey, pork and beef; to be the best in class at vertical integration of turkeys and hogs; to continue the production platform that can facilitate low-cost productions; and to show strong profitability with significant growth in all of our protein businesses from a value-added perspective. In addition to these goals, we will continue to maintain our rigorous food-safety procedures and strong food-quality reputation. We will also continue our unmatched customer-service capabilities, particularly from a logistics standpoint, within all protein businesses throughout the company.
NP: Is this position a newly created one, and if so, what were the goals of the company in creating the position?
Ray: Yes, this is newly created position, created to better leverage our protein businesses in which we operate as a company.
NP: How will your previous position on the refrigerated side of the business help you make the transition to the overall protein business? What is some of the key knowledge that you need to learn/build up, and how has that process played out over the last month and a half?
Ray: We see a significant number of similarities between the refrigerated side of the business, which is basically pork, and leveraging that strength against our turkey business. Vertical integration, plant operations, food-safety procedures and logistics service abilities are very similar in nature, and the knowledge we’ve gained in one protein can be applied to our other core proteins.
NP: Could you discuss the marketing and sales strategy of Hormel Foods’ protein products today? Where do you see the fastest growth from a product perspective?
Ray: We will continue to be the leader in value-added pork, turkey and beef in the industry.
NP: What protein products that Hormel Foods has launched in the last year do you believe have the most potential in the marketplace? What points do those products hit upon, allowing you to have such high hopes for them?
Ray: The most significant launch during the past year has been Hormel® Natural Choice® luncheon meats. These products have been very well accepted into the trade and by consumers, and we continue to build upon the initial launch with a product expansion that included Roast Beef, Carved Chicken Breast (available in two varieties: Oven Roasted and Grilled), Canadian Bacon and Uncured Bacon (available in original and lower sodium varieties). It’s a very good platform to build our company’s line of health and wellness products, and touches upon retail, foodservice, deli and Jennie-O Turkey Store.
NP: With Hormel Foods being one of the most recognizable brand names in the industry across a variety of product offerings, are there any areas or segments of the protein business in which you believe Hormel Foods could improve?
Ray: We will continue to build upon both the Hormel® and Jennie-O Turkey Store® brands, and differentiate our product offerings to our customers and consumers.
NP: The meat industry as a whole has faced some tough challenges over the last year, from dealing with elevated feed prices to recalls of some products. What is Hormel Foods doing to weather the tough marketplace today?
Ray: We’re aggressively seeking ways to offset the increased grain costs by building our product portfolio, increasing prices and reducing costs. Our primary focus still remains on building our value-added product portfolio, which will benefit the company over the longer term and help us recover the higher input costs.
NP: Could you describe the emerging trends you see forthcoming in the meat industry overall? How have your strategies been adjusted in response to meeting these trends?
Ray: Health and wellness continues to receive a tremendous amount of attention, not only in the meat industry, but also in our everyday eating habits. Hormel Foods continues to respond to consumer needs with new innovative products, such as our Hormel® Natural Choice® line of products.
NP: What are the biggest challenges you face in the next year in your new position?
Ray: As in any year, we have established some ambitious goals within our protein businesses. We are taking a deliberate approach to ways we address new and current products within our business portfolio. Both Hormel Foods and Jennie-O Turkey Store have a long-standing focus on continuing to add more value-added products to their current offerings.
NP: What capital improvements has the protein side of Hormel Foods’ business been working on and is ready to put online? How will these additions help Hormel Foods stay top of its game and improve the processes?
Ray: We’ve invested with the introduction of Hormel® Natural Choice® luncheon meats, using our high-pressure pasteurization technology. We will continue to concentrate on working with our vendors on new, innovative pieces of equipment to not only address productivity gains, but also food-safety concerns within our industry through the use of more innovate types of equipment.