Great Lakes Smoked Meats to benefit from USDA program

by Erica Shaffer
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The nine folks at Great Lakes Smoked Meats in Lorain, Ohio, had been patient. They submitted the necessary paperwork. The facility was inspected, and today they are ready to ship Great Lakes Smoked Meats products across state lines for the first time, making the company among the first small meat processors to ship product across state lines under the US Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative Interstate Shipment Program.

The program allows small meat and poultry processors with 25 or fewer employees to sell products across state lines. Before the program was established, state-inspected businesses could only sell products within state lines. USDA finalized regulations in 2011 that allow state employees to administer federal regulations and use federal marks of inspection at selected establishments.

The interstate meat rule was published in final form in May 2011 and the effective date was July 2011. It took about a year to establish the program. USDA Undersecretary Kathleen Merrigan pointed to Great Lakes Smoked Meats as one example of a small processor with the potential to achieve great success through the program.

“[Being] the first to do anything takes a little bit longer,” Merrigan said. “They are doing a service by being the first and serving as the guinea pig.”

Kim Kordeleski-Gonzalez, office manager at Great Lakes Smoked Meats, said everyone in the business eagerly stepped up to participate in the new program. She said they welcomed the challenge, and no one gave a second thought to being the “guinea pigs” in this new venture.

“We have such a good, clean solid program and facility here that we didn't look at it that way,” Kordeleski-Gonzalez said. “With only nine employees here, we have multiple jobs that we do, and we all work very well as a team.”

Great Lakes makes several different smoked meat products such as smoked hams and turkeys, kielbasa, Andouille and bratwurst among other items. But the company’s individual Smokies snack sticks are especially in demand.

“We have one particular distributor that distributes in 38 states,” Kordeleski-Gonzalez said. “We have one other distributor that has 1,000 convenience stores in Michigan. We have a couple chip companies waiting. There’s a lot of demand, we were just patiently waiting for it to all go through.”

A grocery chain outside Philadelphia, Penn., has already agreed to sell Great Lakes products in 300 of the chain’s 900 stores once Great Lakes begins shipping out of state. Ben Fligner, the company’s owner, has said he expects the deal the triple his bottom line.

Ohio is the first state to complete program requirements. But Merrigan said other states are working to join the program, too.

“Wisconsin, Indiana and North Dakota are engaged in the process and want to see it through,” she said during an Aug. 9 teleconference. "We want the smaller guys to thrive and perhaps grow bigger if possible," she added.

Currently the program applies to state-inspected mobile processors and companies with 25 or fewer employees. Merrigan said the requirement employee threshold was included the in 2008 Farm Bill and was not a figure derived by USDA. But in some cases, smaller companies have been very responsive to seasonal variations in that they sometimes have more jobs than at other times. Merrigan said companies that offer seasonal employment should work with state meat inspection meat programs to qualify for the Cooperative Interstate Shipment Program.

“If the state succeeds in getting into the program, they can work to get establishments online,” Merrigan said. “This is a collaboration between USDA and state meat inspection programs. Our partner is the state meat inspection programs.”

Fligner began the process of joining the program in November 2011. Inspectors came to the plant in March, according to Kordeleski-Gonzalez.

“It’s been a really great experience,” Kordeleski-Gonzalez said. “We get to stay a small facility; we get to keep our state inspector here — he sits in here daily with us.

“We have had no problems with it, but kudos to us because we keep very good records — we keep them current and up to date.” 

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