Vienna Beef Ltd. constantly re-inventing itself

by Bryan Salvage
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CHICAGO — Vienna Beef Ltd.’s 140,000-sq.-ft. meat plant, which is connected to its corporate offices and Vienna’s Factory Store and Café on Chicago’s North Side, has the distinct designation of being "USDA Establishment No. 1." It is also the company’s only meat plant, which processes a wide range of the company’s flagship Vienna hot dogs and sausages, a line of premium deli meats and almost 70 upscale soups and chili products.

But meat isn’t the only food offered by the company, which reports annual sales of $110 million under the guidance of co-owners, Jim Eisenberg and Jim Bodman. Vienna also processes pickles and condiments under the Chipico brand, in addition to a Pie Piper desserts.

Vienna’s sales breakdown is approximately 80% foodservice and 20% retail. Online sales are now starting to become an important factor, as well. "We’ve always been more of a foodservice-focused company," says Howard Eirinberg, president and chief operating officer. "And we really don’t focus very much on international right now. There are plenty of business opportunities in the U.S."

Vienna Beef has fared pretty well this past year, despite the struggling economy, Mr. Eirinberg said. "Our sausage business is relatively a ‘cheap eat,’" he adds. "The growth we saw the past few years has flattened out a little bit, but we’re certainly not going backwards."

Mr. Eirinberg said Vienna works on expanding its retail business in the U.S. or its export business only on an opportunistic basis. "We spend most of our time building our core foodservice business in the U.S.," he added. "A great deal of business we do is with hot dog stands.

"We believe we have to constantly re-invent ourselves and keep adding new businesses to our portfolio," Mr. Eirinberg said. "In the last year, we’ve added Hot Dog University and Foods Across America as two brand new businesses, which are avenues for growth."

Regarding Vienna’s new Hot Dog University, Mark Reitman, PhD ("Professor of Hot Dogs") instructs classes inside the plant. Every week, six to eight students from the U.S. are instructed how to enter the mobile cart business. "It’s good for our business because we’re creating new customers," Mr. Eirinberg said. "We also have a separate class for opening hot dog stands. This has been an avenue of growth for us, too."

Foods Across America is a new Vienna catalog business featuring "the best" regional food products in various categories from throughout the U.S. "We have the famous Carnegie Deli corned beef and cheese cake; Vienna Beef products from Chicago; the best regional sodas; the best pies; Philly Cheese Steaks from Philadelphia; Anchor Bar wings from the famous Anchor Bar in N.Y. where wings were developed, and more," Mr. Eirinberg said. "The concept behind this catalog is food is still a great regional business, but some of these foods are hard to get because they’re regional. We started this business last November. It’s growing and doing pretty well."

Too see the rest of the story, see "Mark of distinction," in the redesigned October issue of Meat&Poultry.

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