Benefiting from hindsight
November 17, 2010
Ten years ago this month, George W. Bush was elected as the 43rd President of the United States, the New York Yankees were basking in the glow of winning the World Series and I was the newest addition to Meat&Poultry’s
masthead. Before being hired as managing editor, I had worked as a reporter for numerous newspapers during college, and after graduating I was a staff writer covering local business news in the Kansas City area for several years. I was optimistic that my background, combined with a stint working in the restaurant management field, adequately armed me with the basic tools to cover the meat-processing trade. Lucky for me at the time, I didn’t yet know how much I didn’t know.
When I arrived on the scene, Dan Glickman was the secretary of agriculture; Wayne Britt had recently announced his retirement as CEO of Tyson Foods; Mandatory Price Reporting legislation was being hotly debated; and Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods were embroiled in a bidding war to acquire IBP, inc., which played out for months before a court forced Tyson’s hand.
A flurry of mergers and acquisitions marked the beginning of 2001, including Hormel’s acquisition of The Turkey Store, Smithfield’s purchase of Moyer Packing, Packerland Packing, RMH Foods and more. Later that year, Japan’s beef industry was rocked by the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy within its borders while the UK reeled from a devastating outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. The most devastating development of all was, of course, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks , which forever changed the business landscape in the US, and jarred the country’s sense of security.
The years that followed were no less eventful for the processing industry as recalls of millions of pounds of products by Pilgrim’s Pride in 2002 and ground beef recalled by ConAgra Beef Co. pushed legislators and processors to ramp up efforts to control pathogens while companies like Farmland Industries filed for bankruptcy protection. Next came the infamous discoveries of BSE in 2003, first in Canada and then in the US, after a single cow in Washington state tested positive. It was also during this time that chatter about rising obesity rates began getting the attention of food companies, while consumers by the droves tried out lowcarb diets. At that time, companies like Triumph Foods were breaking ground on new $130-million-plus processing plants and processors were having preliminary discussions with lawmakers about the implications of Country of Origin Labeling proposals. In the years to come, challenges to processors included more animal diseases, including avian influenza, more foot-and-mouth disease abroad and more recently, H1N1. Meanwhile a Brazilian juggernaut swooped into the market and, in 2007, acquired Swift & Co., and since then, several other US-based processing institutions. We’ve seen Smithfield get out of the beef business, Tyson get into the renewable fuels business and Seaboard Foods invest millions in a turkey business.
To say that over the past 10 years I’ve seen everything couldn’t be farther from the truth. But having a front row seat has given me an appreciation of how today’s news and trends fit into the big picture and influence Meat&Poultry’s
coverage of the industry each month. I realize and respect how much there still is to know about this business and what an honor it is to follow this industry and its leaders through the ups and downs of what is never a dull ride.