“Anything that has to do with pork, we do,” says Ken Williams, Farmland Foods’ executive director of marketing. Indeed, the company processes about 70,000 hogs each day to be used in bacon, ham, fresh pork, sausage and hot dogs.
Since 1959, Kansas City, Mo.-headquartered Farmland Foods has been a leading manufacturer of all varieties of pork products. The company has processing facilities in Illinois, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Utah. When hogs enter the facilities, they go through many processes before being ready for consumption. “[After cooling], the hogs go to where the hams are carved and bacon is cured and pressed,” Williams says. “The bellies go through several stages of being smoked, sliced, packaged and boxed. Every step in the process contributes to quality and value – and we take the time to ensure the end product has the quality our customers demand. It’s really not a one- or two-step process – and each stage is critically important.”
After hogs are processed, Farmland Foods sells the products in markets worldwide, from Mexico to China and Japan. It also sells in all 50 states to retail clients – including Wal-Mart, Kroger, Safeway and Costco – and foodservice clients including Shamrock Foods, U.S. Foodservice and Gordon Food Service. “Each customer is a priority for us,” says Scott Webb, senior vice president of sales and marketing. “We find the market to be increasingly demanding. It’s always a challenge, of course, but the great part is that Farmland has the people with the experience and ability to meet the challenge.”
Farmland says it has found that it has the flexibility to meet the unique demands of most customers, whether these demands relate to the exacting specifications of a large Japanese distributor or the requirements of a nationally known domestic quick-service operator.
With the help of its R&D department, Farmland Foods typically introduces new products each year; last year, it introduced 63 new items for retail and foodservice. “We have a great R&D department, and their responsibility is to help us find and come out with new items,” Williams says. “We look for new innovations that are based on rich traditions. Our test kitchen is a very busy place. IRI (Information Resources Inc.) data helps us determine the next new wave of products. Great ideas come from all over, and we accept new concepts and insights from many sources. We receive valuable input from our customers, salespeople and brokers and refine and develop new processes all the time. Some of the best innovations come from the people at our plants.”
The R&D department spearheads the effort of putting new ideas into a testing environment to determine whether the product can be made, what the package size should be, how it would need to be shipped and what markets would be interested. “If the project is one we would like to go with, we do photography, develop sales sheets so our salesmen can go out and sell, and set a launch date,” Williams explains. “If the initial sales are good, we roll it out nationally and have our salesmen present it to more customers.”
Big trends in the industry right now are fully cooked and healthy items. “Fully cooked is a trend, especially in foodservice, because quicker is better,” Williams states. “Any way you can cut down on preparation time, it’s to everyone’s benefit. We do this without compromising quality at the table, and our customers really appreciate that.”
IRI data also show that healthy items – which it calls “better-for-you products” – are a major trend and will continue to grow. “I think everybody’s seeing that today,” Williams says.
“People are taking a really hard look at natural products, and there is a real market there. Consumers are becoming more and more aware of ingredients. We believe the food industry has come a very long way in the past 50 years in making sure food is safe and that technology is focused on making a better product.”
To cater to health-conscious pork eaters, Farmland Foods introduced its Simply Natural line in 2006, which it describes as a step in between all-natural and organic certification.
When competing with other food manufacturers for store shelf space, it’s important that Farmland Foods remains flexible to help retail customers succeed, Williams says. “We’re very nimble and can react to what customers are looking for, and that’s our benefit,” he states.
“For example, we can change the way a product needs to be made or packaged, making the product stand out among its competitors. A lot of other manufacturers are extremely regimented – they have a set variety of products, and that’s all you can buy. When a customer comes to us and expresses a need for a particular specification – a product cut this way or prepared with a special flavor or ingredient, for example, we’ve always looked for innovative ways to achieve that customer’s goal.”
“There is a constant need to be innovative and to invest in equipment that will introduce the latest technologies at our plants,” Williams continues. “We need to provide services that retail consumers and foodservice customers are looking for.”
Farmland Foods’ flexibility is helping it retain shelf space at a time when more consumers are eating at home or going to more affordable restaurants. “More people are staying at home and cooking meals,” Williams says. “And on the foodservice side, people are going away from white-tablecloth restaurants.”
“It’s just a trend that’s happening with everybody in the industry,” he continues. “We use a variety of research tools to look at trends and things we can do to stay successful. There are more and more people being gobbled up in this industry, and only the strong are going to survive.”
Farm Fresh, Environmentally Friendly
In addition to staying on top of consumer trends and innovating for customers, Farmland Foods is dedicated to sustainable practices and animal safety. “We’ve helped set the standard in the pork industry and have advanced animal welfare,” Williams explains. “Our advanced environmental stewardship programs have won state and national awards.”
The awards include:
- The American Meat Institute (AMI) Tier 4 award;
- First place in AMI’s Community Outreach program;
- Second place in AMI Pollution Prevention for BOD reduction;
- Western Illinois’ Economic Development Partnership Environmental Impact award;
- Governor’s Pollution Prevention in 2007 (also a finalist in 2008); and
- Nebraska Council on the Environment Award – 2007 EMS Program and 2008 Community Outreach.
“We put the same ingenuity into sustainable pork production that we put into the products themselves,” Farmland Foods says. “[We have] put into place programs designed to reduce our carbon footprint while increasing profits.”
For instance, one Farmland Foods facility uses alternate fuel and new boilers to lower emissions and reduce natural gas usage by 25 percent. The company’s product shipments also were increased to an average weight of 38,500 pounds, increasing efficiency and reducing fuel usage. And when making deliveries, the idling time for trucks has been reduced, decreasing emissions and saving diesel fuel.
Inside facilities, Farmland Foods recycles cardboard, office paper, wood pallets, oil, pickle and brine. The company also explains it is dedicated to the continuous reduction of water use, water recycling efforts, wastewater treatment, reduction of packaging in manufacturing and finished goods, and the increased use of recyclable packaging.
“Farmland also participates in the Chicago Climate Exchange carbon credit program, and all of our facilities are certified by a third party to the ISO 14001 environmental standard,” Farmland Foods states.
Marking a Milestone
Although Farmland Foods is celebrating its 50th anniversary as a producer of quality meats, its roots actually go back much further. In the 1900s, farming began moving from horse-drawn implements to gas-powered ones, Vice President and General Counsel Marc Kuemmerlein says.
“The farming community foresaw it would become increasingly dependent on petroleum products – and large oil companies,” he says. “Farmers, primarily in the Midwest, organized a cooperative – entirely owned by farmers – to produce and distribute gas and oil products.”
In 1939, in Phillipsburg, Kan., the farmers built the first farmer-owned refinery, financed by contributions from farm families. As the cooperative grew, it also produced and marketed flour, feed, fertilizer, grain – and beginning in 1959, bacon, ham and sausage. Ultimately, Farmland Industries became the largest agricultural cooperative in North America with more than $11 billion in revenues and was listed as one of Fortune’s “Most Admired” companies.
In 2002, faced with a dramatic decline in grain prices and an inflexible financing structure, the cooperative underwent a financial reorganization and sold its assets. In that process, Farmland Foods was acquired by Smithfield Foods Inc. Smithfield kept the original Farmland management in place and has supported the company in its mission of producing meat products that are aligned with values of quality and accountability associated with the company’s historical ties to the agricultural community.
“The principles that governed the cooperative – a strong work ethic, a dedication to quality, an emphasis on service – are still honored in the company today,” Webb says. “The company’s roots are deeply connected with the farming community – the ethics developed there are very much a part of our corporate culture.”
“Farmland for many years used the phrase ‘Farm to Table’ to describe the critical role of quality assurance at every stage of production,” he continues. “It was a view that was ahead of its time. People want to be assured their food supply is wholesome and reliable. They want to know where their food is coming from.
“Farmland has a tradition that recognizes the importance of the role of the agricultural community in making sure quality begins at the farm and continues to the product level. ‘Farm to Table’ expresses an attitude – one that we share with our retail and food service customers – that everyone must do their part to assure the product conforms to high standards.”
As it celebrates its 50th anniversary, Farmland Foods acknowledges the significance of the milestone, and Webb vows the company will continue to be successful. “Our success positions us well for the next 50 years,” he says. “We have the people to continue our track record, and we are now affiliated with Smithfield, a world-class producer and manufacturer – it’s the best of both worlds. We will continue to grow our products and brands. Farmland has a strong reputation for quality, service and innovation – and we’re committed to keeping that reputation alive.”