It may seem hard to believe for an industry as old as meat processing, but there are still things to learn by those who are in the business.
That’s the assessment of Dr. Jeff Sindelar, University of Wisconsin – Extension meat specialist. As one who provides assistance to the meat industry and education to its stakeholders, Sindelar is forever seeking ways to bolster the business of the many meat processors located in Wisconsin.
“The meat industry has been around forever, with the first remnants being tied to the 1500s, when the first immigrants came to what is now the U.S.,” Sindelar says. “There have been a lot of changes through history. And all meat plants, no matter how large they are now, started off as small plants. There were many doors that opened for growth.”
Sindelar believes similar opportunities are there for the 272 state-inspected meat processors operating in Wisconsin today, especially the smaller companies. One of the more recent teaching tools is the Meat Science Extension’s Master Meat Crafter Training Program, which launched in 2010.
“The program is intended for meat processors who have the basic knowledge and expertise on meat processing and all the topics related to that and want to have a much deeper understanding of the field of meat science and meat processing,” Sindelar says. “The training can help meat processors become better at what they do and more knowledgeable, which could open up doors for growth, hiring more people, developing more product or finding new markets. All of that should play into the overall goal of the program, which is to help the meat industry in the state to maintain its viability as well as grow for the future.”
Strong in the Community
Wisconsin is home to large meat-processing companies such as Johnsonville Sausage, the Sheboygan-based business that makes the country’s top brand of brats, Italian sausage and similar meats. In Milwaukee, you’ll find Usinger’s Famous Sausage and Klement’s Sausage Company. But the smaller companies, many of which are members of the Wisconsin Association of Meat Processors (WAMP), may best represent the future of the industry.
“As a whole, the small meat processors are very strong in their community throughout the state,” says Matt Bayer, owner of Country Fresh Meats in Weston and president of WAMP. “The association has a very good core of people trying to promote the local businesses and trying to put out the best quality as a small processor can to compete with the larger companies. The larger companies can put out a mass volume of product, while we try to work on a niche product that our consumers are starting to look for.”
The state’s pork processors are also instrumental to the success of the overall meat industry, and Wisconsin’s landscape is dotted with many small pork-processing companies.
“Certainly we’ve got a number of very high-quality small processing plants that have been landmarks within their communities and regional areas,” says Tammy Vaassen, director of operations for the Wisconsin Pork Association. “They have really grown their businesses and had the chance to create their own specialty products.”
All state-inspected meat processors now have the advantage of being allowed to ship across state lines, after meeting certain conditions, under an agreement between the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s Division of Food Safety and the USDA. Many plants have expressed interest in the interstate meat shipment program, and several are already taking steps to participate.
“It has definitely helped with their business growth,” Sindelar says.