Turning point

by Kimberlie Clyma
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Stacy Mueller didn’t plan on a career in the meat business when she headed to college. But after getting involved with the meat-judging team as an undergraduate at Texas A&M Univ. she was introduced to the meat science program, and the rest is history.

Her undergraduate degree in agriculture business and master’s degree in meat science helped qualify her for a job in the quality assurance, product development department at H.E.B. supermarkets in San Antonio. For three-and-a-half years she worked to develop the supermarket’s branded meat program. From there she transitioned to her current position with Kiolbassa Provision Co., San Antonio, in charge of QA, product development R&D and meat procurement. Mueller has been with Kiolbassa for about 18 months.

The transition from working for a supermarket retailer to going to the supplier side was an easy one, says Mueller. “Kiolbassa was one of H.E.B.’s suppliers, so I already had a relationship with the company,” she adds. In fact, it was her colleagues at H.E.B. who helped her get the job with Kiolbassa.

When Kiolbassa reached a turning point in its meat program a couple of years ago, the company started to look for help with its product development and QA programs. At the same time, Mueller was considering new challenges and directions for her career. Mueller’s H.E.B. colleagues recommended she pursue the career change, and went a step further to directly encourage Kiolbassa to consider her for their new QA of product development position.

“Her knowledge on meat has thoroughly improved our procedures and processes along with increased our yields,” said Michael Johnson, marketing and brand manager for Kiolbassa. “Stacy is a true leader who dedicates long hours to bettering the Kiolbassa team.”

“Kiolbassa has gone from a mom-and-pop type meat operation to a full-scale industry player,” Mueller said. “They are looking into exporting and producing more branded products for major retailers. There have been a lot of big changes at the company and it’s great being a part of them all.”

Solid team member
Being a member of the team is one of Mueller’s favorite parts of her job. “A group of us all started at Kiolbassa at the same time and we’ve all worked together to take its production to the next level. It’s a great opportunity to have input in the changes the company’s making,” she said. “It’s very rewarding to see our programs develop and expand.”

The QA team has been working to get its products SQF certified, which will help the company transition into the export market. The goal is to have certification complete by the end of the year.

“One of the biggest challenges in the meat business is working with the external requirements and regulations that are constantly changing,” Mueller says. “Regulations are a big part of QA, so it’s a constant challenge in my work.”

Battling consumer misconceptions is also an ongoing challenge. “In the sausage business, we’re always having to combat misconceptions about what goes into sausage. We constantly have to educate consumers.”

Challenges aside, Mueller has no regrets about making the meat industry her career. “The industry is like a family –from grad school until now I have met a lot of great people in the meat industry,” she says. “My old suppliers from H.E.B. are still willing to lend me a hand. I don’t think you see that kind of support and interaction in every industry.”
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