Nueske's: Founded on bacon and thriving on tradition
Nov. 3, 2016
by Joel Crews
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Applewood Smoked Bacon is Nueske's signature product. The company has seen bacon sales steadily increase.
Most likely, nobody living in Wittenberg, Wisconsin, would be offended to hear that the city is perhaps best-known for the iconic bacon and meat-processing company that has been a hometown mainstay since 1933.
Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Meats, a family owned meat company, literally is world famous for its legendary bacon products, but the company has expanded its offerings to include a variety of premium products. And Nueske’s is growing, as indicated by the recent rollout of a new bratwurst product and the expansion of its processing plant in Wittenberg.
The editors of MEAT+POULTRY’s Bacon Business News were honored to have the opportunity to learn more about the story behind the legend that is Nueske’s. Excerpts of the exchange are below, beginning with CEO Tanya Nueske (representing the third generation of family leadership), who discussed the importance of her company’s core principles, which were established by its founder. Read the entire exchange with Nueske’s in the November issue of MEAT+POULTRY.
M+P: What are Nueske’s core principles that seem to be a source of pride and motivation for all of the company’s employees?
R.C. Nueske, founder of Nueske's Applewood Smoked Meats, poses by a delivery truck.
My grandfather, “R.C.” Nueske, the founder of our company, instilled his values in both his business and in his children, [including] Bob, my father, and Jim, my uncle. Those values revolved around consistency and quality. We did not — and don’t — look to becoming the biggest company that we could as our goal, but instead to always striving to be the best that we could on all levels; in what we produced, in how we treated our customers and employees, and in how we conducted ourselves. We work hard to be consistent and to always deliver a top quality product and service with each interaction.
In terms of operations, how big is the processing plant currently and how many employees and shifts are operated there?
The current size of our manufacturing facility is approximately 45,000 sq. ft. We have approximately 175 employees and run two shifts, five days a week.
As the company has grown its reputation for premium products nationally, how do you balance technology with the artisan tradition and consistency of Nueske’s products?
We balance technology with tradition carefully. Our people are our biggest asset and we rely on our team members for our quality. We don’t have heavy automation; that is not the only way to meet demand. Passionate employees diligently following our process control is what gives us the consistency we promise to our customers.
A truck delivers Nueske's products in Pelican Lake, Wisconsin.
What is the biggest selling item historically and what is the fastest-growing item sold?
We are best-known for our classic Applewood Smoked Bacon. It’s one of our original products and is truly our signature flavor: sweet, rich and robustly smoky. Over the past decade, bacon sales have steadily increased.
What is the general product mix of what Nueske’s sells and through what channels are they sold?
Nueske’s sells through both e-commerce (www.nueskes.com), our company store in Wittenberg, Wisconsin, and through our distributors to foodservice and retail channels. Each channel has generally the same core Nueske’s products, although often in pack sizes unique to the channel. Bacon makes up the bulk of our SKUs, with ham and sausage coming just behind bacon, as far as product and pack variety.
Obviously the company was founded on bacon and that remains a big part of its identity. What was the chronology of the other product lines and who usually initiates and develops new products?
Products, other than bacon, that are part of our core offerings are ham, sausage, and poultry. We don’t come out with new products as often as many companies do, largely because we are so deeply focused on the consistency and quality of our classic products. Roughly every five years we might have a new product launch, with some of our most recently added products (added in the last 10 years) being Wild Cherrywood Smoked Uncured Bacon and our newest product, Applewood Smoked Jalapeño Bacon Cheddar Bratwurst, which was introduced to foodservice and retail this fall.
When Bob (Tanya’s father and the second-generation leader of Nueske’s) passed away in early 2015 there was an outpouring of sympathy and appreciation from the industry and customers. How did the family and the company’s employees rebound from this loss?
We have held everything that Bob valued and envisioned at our core. Unknown to most of the company at the time of his passing, Bob had left a small book with BIG content behind for employees and family. He had been in the process of writing his vision for the company and his beliefs and values about our company’s culture. Employees were each given a copy of this book, published after his passing and titled “Beyond Bacon.” Since Bob had been open (always a good talker and an even better listener) with his employees, many of us had been lucky enough to talk with Bob, face to face, about the parts of the company culture that were most important to him, but having it all in print was a touching thing for each of the employees — and the family — and that book serves as a compass for all of us and also as a way to introduce new employees to our vision and culture.
Read more about the past, present and future of Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Meats in the November issue of MEAT+POULTRY, available digitally by Nov. 9 at www.meatpoultry.com.