M&P’s Corporate Profiles reflect a steady flow of changes and challenges for processors

Much has changed in the meat-processing industry since 2005, the last year Meat&Poultry published what was then, an annual Corporate Profiles feature. Corporate Profiles were designed to provide readers an update of some of the industry’s top companies and a snapshot of their current status. Indeed, the status of many of the companies included in 2005 have changed significantly. For example:

• Swift & Co. – Acquired by JBS SA;
• ConAgra Foods – Sold its meats business to Smithfield Foods;
• Gold Kist – Acquired by Pilgrim’s Pride, which was subsequently acquired by JBS SA; and
• Brawley Beef – Acquired by National Beef Packing Co.

Meanwhile, the focus of many of the other companies has changed significantly, including Tyson Foods, Greater Omaha Packing and Cargill, all of which are subjects of this year’s Corporate Profiles. Also included in the newest profiles are: Smithfield Foods, JBS USA, La Cense Beef, Hormel Foods, Sanderson Farms, Murray’s Chickens and Creekstone Farms. Similar to 2005, this year poses a a new set of challenges for companies processing the country’s and the world’s meat products. And as it was six years ago, the industry’s top companies weathered a wide variety of storms in the marketplace by enlisting the brightest minds to incorporate the latest innovation and technology to manufacture food for an increasingly sophisticated customer base.

Cargill Meat Solutions Corp. (CMS), based in Wichita, Kan., is a major processor and distributor of fresh beef, pork and turkey, plus cooked and marinated meats. The company offers more than 12 major brands sold in both foodservice and retail areas. It also processes and distributes for processors, retailers, distributors and others in the United States.
Founded in 1936 as Excel Packing Co., a beef processor in Chicago, it eventually became known as Excel Corporation. Excel became part of Cargill Meat Solutions in 2000, when that company was created by Cargill as one of 13 business platforms. CMS has locations in Argentina, Australia, Hong Kong, China, Honduras, Japan, Korea, Mexico and Taiwan. The company operates facilities for beef, case-ready products, distribution, value-added meats, carrel feeders, pork, turkey and international operations.

But Cargill, like many other meat and poultry processors, has had to deal with the effects of an economic downturn that’s been underway for about two years. In fact, the drop in the American economy began just as Jody Horner, who’s spent her entire career with Cargill Corp., was named president and CEO of CMS.

While some economists say the recession is abating and others maintain the economy still struggles, Horner says the recession has changed consumer buying habits. “Many more meals are being prepared at home, rather than eaten out,” she says. “So, we have chef-inspired Sterling Silver Premium Meats, fresh, ready-to-cook meat options. These are stress-free meals to be made at home, and there are 12 or 13 varieties. Consumers are definitely looking for value; more in bulk for family packs,” she says.

While there are signs the severity of the recession is dropping, with increasing employment and other positive indicators (some economists even say the recession is over), Horner isn’t as quick to say everything is back to “normal.” Last year in an interview with Meat&Poultry, she said she didn’t want to underestimate the impact of the recession.

Change and diversity

Change affects the meat and poultry industry and every other industry in the world. Cargill points to change and diversity as a never-ending process that the company not only goes through, but improves its offerings as a result. The company relays American consumers as groups are more diverse than in the past. It talks about its Rumba line of meats, “foods of the soul, comidas del Alma,” the first brand tested and customized for multicultural consumers, including Hispanics, African Americans and Asians.

The company has continued to grow and adapt to changing circumstances in the meat and poultry industry. It has invested almost $1 billion in research, technology and facility and plant design. Cargill Meat Solutions is the first American processor to install high-pressure hide washing equipment in all of its fed-cattle plants. It uses computer vision grading to bring scientific precision to its quality assessment of beef.

At the same time, no other US pork processor uses both CO2 stunners and blast chillers to produce superior pork color. Cargill also pioneered steam pasteurization technology, revolutionizing and changing the way the beef industry battles E. coli O157:H7. CMS originated a trisodium phosphate rinse as a pre-chill intervention for its poultry industry, now widely used by that industry to fight Salmonella. In the company’s distribution centers, state-of-the-art robotics preserve product integrity by keeping to the absolute minimum the number of times boxes are handled. Cargill has been able to install computer chips in its truck trailers in order to monitor and adjust the temperature of its products being transported. That way, the strict “cold-chain” started within Cargill plants can be maintained.

The company also uses its REDiFresh packaging system for its case-ready meat products. This preserves fresh meat color from the first day a product is sold until the last.

CMS has also been greatly involved in processing technology and food safety for all of its operations, including foodservice, realizing its reputation, as well as those of the companies it sells its products to, are on the line. It says it achieves proper cooking and handling of meat and poultry products by everyone in the food chain by having fully modernized plants; innovative quick-freeze methods; deep basting; injection and mechanical tenderizing; fresh, frozen and processed portion control; and computerized grinding and processing. It has FDA regulation-compliant cattle feeders, uses Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles and procedures, carries out regular equipment inspections, makes use of pre-evisceration acid rinses, advance sanitation procedures and systems, steam vacuum, steam pasteurization and carcass chilling.

CMS has also been involved in acquisitions, including adding Cargill Turkey Products to CMS in 2001. Cargill entered the turkey processing business in 1967. It grew through the 1998 acquisition of Plantation Foods in Waco, Tex., and the 2001 acquisition of Rocco Foods in Harrisonburg, Va. Two years later, Cargill Meat Solutions created a business around Taylor Beef, from Wyalusing, Pa., which the company acquired in 2002.

CMS brands include Angus Pride Premium Beef; Excel Fresh Meats; Honeysuckle White Turkey; Meadowland Farms Ground Beef; Preferred Angus Beef; Ranchers Registry Angus Beef; Rumba; Good Nature Pork, a natural product without antibiotics, growth stimulants, preservatives or hormones; Shady Brook Farms; Sterling Silver premium beef or pork; Circle T (fresh) Beef; and Tender Choice pork products, made with the company’s proprietary marinade.

On the foodservice side, Cargill is involved with beef, pork and turkey.

Cargill also has a meat solutions technical center in Wichita, employing 70 scientists and support staff trained in meat science, food science microbiology and regulatory affairs, providing broad technical expertise to beef, pork and turkey customers. The center includes a USDA inspected pilot plant and culinary design center.