Staking claim

by Steve Krut
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David Fales tapped into his 30 years of marketing experience with three of the nation’s most dynamic food corporations and set up shop in picturesque Cody, Wyo., where he was born, to start a Wyoming-origin meat business in the area where his ancestors homesteaded nearly 100 years ago.

His fledgling Wyoming Authentic Products is much more than a start-up meat company. It is the embodiment of a dream to do for Wyoming what the potato has done for Idaho, the lobster for Maine and the apple for Washington State.

Now that’s a mighty powerful statement to make about a 6,000-sq.-ft. plant with 10 employees, but the stuff visions are made of is much stronger than steel.

On Oct. 21, 2013, just four months ago, Fales and his wife, Kristine, opened the first USDA-inspected value-added meat processing plant in Wyoming. Located just 50 miles from the eastern entrance to Yellowstone National Park, the facility has covered more ground in a few short months than most could envision in a decade. It is improbable that this new kid on the block is already successfully selling filet mignon on the company website www.wyproducts.com for a cut-above price of $37 a lb. And demand is soaring.

Trail blazing

Let’s follow the trail this now 64-year-old Wyoming native has blazed since he earned his economics degree from Brigham Young Univ. and MBA in marketing from the Univ. of Southern Cal.

“I spent nine years in various positions, including working as the North America business management team leader for Fresh Express bagged salads,” Fales explains. “The company was able to add value to the simple head of lettuce by putting together the elements of high quality control, HACCP, value-packaging and convenience to become the industry leader.”

He also served as vice president for marketing and national accounts for another industry standout, Colombo Frozen Yogurt, in Boston and earned even more stripes as the group marketing manager for JR Simplot.

“Simplot was big in french fries but was seeing a serious decline in volume of its key premium brand,” Fales recalls. “When I talked to our foodservice customers, many had dropped this product because the company dropped the Idaho potato logo from the packaging and was buying potatoes from other states, as well. Customers told me they wanted the best ‘Idaho’ potato to be used for the fries they were buying.”

When he convinced the company to restore the highly promoted Idaho logo and use a single area source, sales and margins started increasing again and he learned a valuable lesson about consumer trust of source verification.

“Having learned about what the customer really wants from Los Angeles to Boston, I realized that there was a way to honor and restore the heritage and quality values that my family, my ancestors from the 1800’s, and all the men and women who farmed and ranched in Wyoming through the generations by making their beefs the one the customer seeks out and actually buys,” he says.

Fales is very conversant with the hard life of Wyoming agriculture, recalling days when he fed cattle and delivered calves in sub-zero weather as a 4-H youngster on his parent’s place.

After working for three decades for large companies, Fales and his wife began to tackle their dream of returning to Wyoming and making something special of the meats from Wyoming. Three years ago they began what he refers to as “my most difficult undertaking and challenge.”

He was able to work with the Wyoming Business Council (WBC) to find a way to build a plant in that state that could ship its products nationwide, or even internationally. When a $1.2 million grant was obtained through the WBC and the state of Wyoming, Fales and his investors put up 10 percent of the money needed to build the facility and obtained a long-term lease to operate it.

“I was able to get help and a state certification to use the Wyoming logo on the products,” he says. “We test marketed with 100 head of cattle in 2011 and the results and the feedback were very good.”

The Cody plant uses only certified antibiotic- and hormone-free, Natural Angus beef from Wyoming cattle slaughtered at a partnering plant, Double J Meats in Pierce, Colo. The Cody facility produces a variety of products including original, peppered and honey-flavored jerky, smoked beef sticks in jalapeño and “cowboy hickory” flavors, portion-control cut steaks and beef patties.

Wyoming Authentic Products distributes through Sysco and other distributors and is in demand in the Jackson Hole, Cody, Denver, and the greater Yellowstone area markets and is being sent out wherever the website reaches. Fales says his contacts in the distribution sector, foodservice companies, high-end restaurants and grocery stores are propelling the volume from about 12 to 24 cattle a week to a target number of 42 by the end of the year, and he hopes to double that number in the next year.

“The secret to being successful in the meat industry is to find a way to maximize the value of the entire carcass,” he says. “When we are able to take trim and turn it in to convenient, tasty, high-value products, and not at commodity prices, we have advanced significantly in taking total control of our inventory.”

A dream and vision realized? Maybe for some, but not quite for David Fales, who’s still thinking marketing under that cowboy hat.

“Once Wyoming beef is what people are asking for across the nation…as the gold standard for meat…we feel there are plenty of Wyoming hogs and sheep that could fit that Authentic Wyoming Products label quite well,” he concludes.

Steve Krut, an industry veteran, is a contributing editor writing exclusively for Meat&Poultry, specializing in small business issues.

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