Taking Stock
By Tom Wray, associate editor

Stock Yards Meat Packing has kept up a history of quality throughout more than a century of service.
Just because a company isn’t huge doesn’t mean that there won’t be a big focus on quality and a long history. A prime example of that is the Stock Yards Meat Packing Co. of Chicago, Ill.
Stock Yards has a history longer than many companies. The Pollack family started the business in 1893 as a butcher shop near the original Union Stock Yards in Chicago. By 1902, the small business moved away from retail and toward supplying the city’s many quality restaurants, hotels and clubs.
In the 115 years since, the business has grown to a national brand and has earned the solid reputation that comes with it. A purchase by U.S. Foodservice in 2000 gives Stock Yards access to the distribution options of a leading foodservice supplier.
“U.S. Foodservice has opened new doors and allowed us to significantly expand our distribution points, enhanced our ability to use technology, and have the industry’s best food-safety quality assurance process,” says Stock Yards President Bryan Fleck.
The foodservice end of the business has continued to grow with a focus on high-end steakhouses. With distribution centers in Las Vegas and New Jersey, the company is set to supply such restaurants as Morton’s, McCormick & Schmick, NY Prime and Lawry’s among many others. But it is not the company’s only focus.
“The retail market is a major priority for Stock Yards,” says Fleck. “Market research told us that we have good brand recognition and that customers want our products, but we believe we can improve their experience. U.S. Foodservice is your partner beyond the plate. This means our expertise and commitment to our customers’ success goes beyond simply putting the highest-quality food on the plate.”
The company has been involved with retail since its beginning in the 19th century through expansion in 1955 with mail-order steaks. Those steaks, sold under the brands, Stock Yards, Stock Yards Angus, Stock Yards 1893, Certified Angus Beef and Certified Angus Beef Natural, have been joined by roasts, ribs, seafood, appetizers, desserts and more.
Embracing new ways
Stock Yards uses the tried-and-true method of catalogs with its mail-order business, but it has also embraced new technology with the latest e-commerce technology on the Web site.
“In 2008, you will see new and exciting things from Stock Yards,” Fleck continues. “We added digital photography that makes our catalog a lot more dynamic and inviting. In addition, the new ‘Gray box’ is a true reflection of the Stock Yards brand. People have started using it as a gift box; whether it is as a gift to themselves or a gift that they present to others.”
Even with the other quality choices, beef, of course, remains Stock Yards’ most popular product. Its filets are used in fine restaurants across the country. Fleck says that its Prime rib and rib chops (also known as the Chicago Cut or Cowboy Steak) are a close second. The company’s strips or Sirloin steaks remain a top-three pick even after more than a century in business.
The company does have plans to continue expanding the choices for consumers and work on ways to make it easier for them to order. Also on the docket are the expansion of steak offerings and the use of new demographic information and more enhancements of the customer base.
A company that has had such a long history has run into, and overcome, many challenges in serving its customers. One of the biggest in the early 21st century has been the price of the beef itself.
“Adjusting to the impact of price increases is an important part of this business,” explains Fleck. “Some in the industry believe price increases are related to the increase price of corn because it’s used in ethanol production. We know corn is also the main raw material used in the production of cattle.
“We take on the additional challenge of finding ways to help our customers anticipate and adjust to the impact of price increases that will continue to improve their bottom line and still allow them provide high quality products.”
The changing labor market also has kept Stock Yards on its toes. Fleck says the skilled labor market is shrinking, and the company must continually search for the best talent to serve as field specialists. He says that the company has worked hard to create products that help cut costs for customers and wants its customers to take advantage of those specialists and their detailed knowledge of the products.
Stock Yards has kept its home base in Chicago not just for the nostalgic value and the company’s history in the city. There are some hard benefits to doing business in the Windy City.
“Since we are in close proximity to all of the major beef harvesting plants, this reduces Stock Yards’ transportation cost and allows the company to have access to the freshest supply of raw products,” Fleck says.
Chicago’s status as a major transit hub also helps. A variety of transportation options are available including trucks for both local and national transport and air freight at the city’s large airports.
A proud history
Stock Yards long history in the industry happens to be one of the things the company is most proud of. Many of its own employees have their own long histories.
“We have employees that have been with us for decades, including some who have been with Stock Yards over 50 years,” says Fleck. “This is nearly unheard of in today’s business world.”
The company is also very proud of its well-earned reputation. Stock Yards has worked hard to maintain the quality of the products it has produced since 1893. It considers itself a blend of a traditional supplier and a foodservice distributor. And with 100-plus years of service, it has learned how to give good customer service.
Fleck says that Stock Yards’ employees know how to understand the needs of its customers. They take the time needed to listen and find out what solution works best for the situation at hand. And this commitment isn’t just at the customer service level. Fleck says it is with all employees.
“There are countless times when customers have called and indicated they desperately needed product, either out of necessity or demand, and we have delivered on it,” he says. “This includes our drivers, general employees, sales associates, and even upper management [including the President and CFO].”
This pride in customer service and the product made are the central part of the company’s culture. Fleck says that everyone at Stock Yards understands the importance of that quality to its customers.
“We have customers who opened their businesses 30 or more years ago and still use Stock Yards products today,” Fleck says. “This facet is about how we earn a customer’s loyalty and the level of quality service that Stock Yards provide. It’s the greatest testament we have about the partnerships we have built with our customers.”
Stock Yards Meat Packing Co.
Founded in 1893
Headquarters: Chicago, Ill.
Employees: 100 in Chicago
Plants: 14
Brands: Stock Yards, Stock Yards Angus, Stock Yards 1893, Certified Angus Beef, Certified Angus Beef Natural
Web: www.stockyards.com