SNEAK PEEK: Tradition and innovation

by Bob Sims
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 Burgers
Burgers' Smokehouse continues to use old school methods in today's technology and skill. 
 

CALIFORNIA, Mo. – In 1927, E.M. Burger looked for a way to make some extra money on his family’s California, Missouri, farm. He cured six quality hams, using the existing farm buildings, and found they could sell for more than a whole hog. Today, Burgers’ Smokehouse sits on the same land as the original farm where E.M. cured his first hams and now cures over 500,000 country hams a year. By 1952, E.M. had sold enough hams to build a facility on the farm dedicated to curing country hams.

Burgers’ growth through the years and the steps it’s taken toward innovation, as well as a strategy for future growth, and more are featured in an August story in the pages of MEAT+POULTRY.

Burgers’ carries a wide selection of products including some non-meat offerings, but the bulk of the business remains the same as it did almost 60 years ago. Along with the signature dry cured country hams, Burgers’ also offers customers its city ham. The city ham is an injected, moist cured ham, but the country hams are what the company was founded on and continue to fuel its growth.

“Ham is still the driving force. Country ham represents, by itself, 40 percent and that’s still the biggest part of our business,” says Steven Burger, president of Burgers’ Smokehouse.

Burgers’ bacon products represent one of its fastest growing products and the company produces a variety. Flavors include Hickory Smoked, Applewood Smoked, Peppered, Maple and Cajun. Also, most of these flavors come in a Bacon Steak option where they’re cut a ¼-in. thick. It produces bacon under its own brand as well as co-processing for other companies, in addition to supplying a number of foodservice products. In the retail channel, the company set out to take craft bacon mainstream and has succeeded.

Steven Burger and four other family members represent the third generation of management in the organization – his father Morris still comes into the office, but has a less active role today as board emeritus and company ambassador. Four members of the fourth generation currently play active roles in the company and plan to be a part of its continued success in the future. But Burgers’ also hired from outside the family to attain a skill set it didn’t have before to achieve the goal of doubling the $50 million company by 2020.

Burgers’ Smokehouse’s advantage in the industry comes in the forms of size, flexibility and specialization. It’s one of the single-largest, processors of dry cured, country hams in the country. Its ability to produce artisan bacon on a large scale puts it at an advantage in that segment, as well. However, as a medium-size processor, operations are batch-based, which requires flexibility and a plant that is designed to process different products every day.

Read more about Burgers’ Smokehouse in MEAT+POULTRY’s August issue.
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