April 18, 2011
by Steve Krut
Every small meat processor seems to hit on something they do well. But those that seemingly do everything well are indeed, rare. Alewel’s Country Meats is one of those rich finds and a true, rural diamond in the rough.
Maybe it’s something in the genes that makes this fourth-generation business stay on the cutting edge of innovation and growth, but CEO Randy Alewel deflects the credit to everyone and everything else.
“Our strength is having a variety of quality products and employees who are trained and empowered to make decisions,” he explains. “Customer service is huge. Someone coming into our shop gets personal care.
“I can honestly say that the success of our business is not that we never make mistakes, but that we don’t make the same ones twice,” he adds. “We have learned so much from others in our industry. We try to apply what we’ve learned and take care of our customers. And we’ve found that they take care of you.”
The family started in the food business in 1932 when brothers Hugo and Dick Alewel established a grocery store in an old hotel in Concordia, Mo., which included a small meat shop specializing in the manufacture of sausage and processed cured meat. They later built a slaughter plant just outside town and phased out of the grocery business.
Hugo’s son, Roger, returned home from the Air Force in 1964 and worked with the family before buying a meat processing operation and retail store in Warrensburg, Mo. in 1975. When a fire destroyed the Concordia plantin 1979, the family rebuilt and added on to the facility. Just three years later, Roger sold the business to Krachmer Foods of St. Louis and continued working as a manager, but kept the Warrensburg facility, waiting for son Randy to finish studies in animal science at the Univ. of Missouri, Columbia.
Randy put his bachelor’s degree to work immediately upon graduation in 1983 and moved things into high gear in Warrensburg. He expanded it three times, the most recent addition being a rustic looking retail store with a warm, contemporary décor.
Randy and wife Teresa, who is the director of career services at the Univ. of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, have three children who work part time while in school and during the summers.
With only 12 employees, the Alewels operate with aplomb in the shadow of a major shopping center and despite a Wal-Mart store that is almost visible from their facility. From the front porch to the retail shop where nestling pig statues seem right at home, customers enter a fantasy land of meat products that have earned the family more than 200 state and national awards for their quality. Every aspect of the retail store is customer-friendly and the variety of gourmet products is exceeded only by the quality.
The 575-sq.-ft. retail store accounts for 40 percent of the Alewel sales volume, but the rest of the 6,000-sq.-ft. facility houses a vibrant private-label division (20 percent); a popular custom processing trade (20 percent) and a growing catering business (10 percent).
“We’ve been doing more private labeling and our high quality standards help us a great deal,” Randy adds. “We just keep focusing on refining what we do to do it better.”
In Missouri, custom deer processing is a huge boost to smaller processors, and the Alewel’s offerings in that department are strong in the value-added area. Prize-winning recipes for deer summer sausage, snack sticks, jerky, franks, brats and chili-links bring in about 2,000 individual sportsmen a year, and the varieties in those categories include a bevy of flavors.
Catering is a strong suit at Alewel’s Country Meats and the high-end offerings can be picked up or delivered. From whole, roasted pigs to baron of beef, smoked turkey, barbecue choices or even sandwiches for offi ce or corporate meetings, the family owners do it with pizzazz. Customers need only answer “when and how many” and everything from serviceware to plates is planned for them.
A visit to the fi rm’s website (www.alewels.com
) provides a lesson in marketing gift packages. Bundles give a choice of several sausages and a bacon sampler lets one get cured, Cajun, peppered and dry cured bacons. Others offer everything from smoked turkey, smoked chops, ham, sausage and cheeses.
Alewel’s website also features recipes and tips for cooking steaks, standing rib roasts, Alaskan halibut and even red-eye gravy to grace their famous dry-cured country hams. For the custom trade, they offer to process product using customers’ recipes or theirs.
Warrensburg is still a rural community and about 3,000 vehicles a day pass in front of the store. When Wal-Mart opted to offer only pre-packaged meats, Randy stuck with traditional service and enjoyed his biggest Christmas volume ever. In 2010, Alewel’s sales grew by 33 percent. Maintaining a business for 79 years requires a nimble approach and flexible business model. All the while, a commitment to serving the community and the industry in which it operates is essential. Roger, who flew B-52 bombers in the Air Force, joined the Missouri Army National Guard when he returned to the meat business. He also served as the manager of the Missouri State Fair and his wife, Ronnie, worked as the secretary of the Missouri Association of Meat Processors (MAMP).
Hugo, Randy and and Roger were inducted into MAMP’s Hall of fame in 1989, 2001 and 2002, respectively. Both Roger and Randy were presidents of the American Association of Meat Processors (AAMP) and in 2004 they became the first father and son to be inducted into AAMP’s Cured Meat Hall of Fame. Roger and Ronnie were honored with AAMP’s Annual Achievement Award in 1997.
Randy is presently commander of the 35th Engineer Brigade of the Missouri National Guard and has earned the rank of colonel.
His involvement in the Missouri Pork Producers and Missouri Cattlemens Associations, the Warrensburg Rotary Club, Western Missouri Medical Center (trustee) and Warrensburg Chamber of Commerce speaks volumes, but considering he has also managed Alewel’s Cattle Company and Brisket’s BBQ Restaurant, a drive-through promoting Alewel’s smoked products and catering services, no one can question how much he believes in giving back to those who supported him and his family business.
But when asked about what makes him proudest, Randy serves up another piece of his brand of humblepie: “The employees we have are what make and sustain our business. We have three who have been here over 20 years, one over 30 years and the average is nine years with us.”