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Beyond borders

by Bernard Shire
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When Michael Johnson joined San Antonio-based Kiolbassa Provision Co. five years ago as director of brand growth, one of his first tasks was to promote the company’s premium sausage products beyond the borders of Texas.

Besides premium smoked sausage, KPC also makes Spanish/Mexican-style terrazzo, summer sausage, and a beef-based twist on the “pig in a blanket.”

His work has garnered the attention of Michael Kiolbassa, the company’s owner, who says, “Michael’s marketing expertise has helped us to define ourselves in a very crowded category, and propelled our brand to the top. His research into consumer habits and trends has helped position our brand for significant future growth nationally. And he has brought tremendous value to our organization and brand growth.”

Johnson is a native of El Paso, but moved to San Antonio when he was 13. He went to college at Texas Tech Univ. where he graduated in 2006 with a marketing degree. He went on to earn his MBA a year later, with plans to pursue a career in the pharmaceutical industry, as a sales representative. But while attending the university, he worked as an intern with Michael Kiolbassa. While interning, he realized he enjoyed the meat industry, while Kiolbassa realized the company needed a marketer to help it grow. It was Johnson who came up with the regionally famous tag line for the company’s products: “Real Meat, Real Smoke, Real Sausage!”

“Being part of the sales and marketing team, our revenues have doubled,” Johnson says proudly. He was asked by Kiolbassa to take over the marketing duties, which at the same time increased the company’s sales.

Food business ‘passion’

Since he’s worked at Kiolbassa Provisions, he’s become passionate about the food business. “I love food, especially barbecue, so this is certainly the right place for me,” he says enthusiastically. And while working in the industry is fun for Johnson, he takes the business very seriously.

“We’re the most expensive sausage on the shelf and that has been a challenge. But we’ve been successful, and we keep growing,” Johnson says.

Johnson is cautiously optimistic about the economy’s bounce-back.

Two major factors at play are increasing gasoline prices, making it harder to move the product around, and the price of beef.

His goals at this point are to establish an even greater marketing reach at Kiolbassa.

“My boss has great vision, and I work for an incredible company,” he says.

Growing pains and opportunities for Johnson go hand-in-hand.

“Our biggest challenge right now is distribution, including educating retailers outside the state,” he says.

The company’s greatest opportunities are continuing to expand the base outside Texas. “Last year, we got distribution in the Midwest,” he says. “There are opportunities at Costco and Sam’s Club in 27 states. That’s where we want to be.”

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