Bob Evans
BEF Foods' Mike Townsley (center) strikes a balance between the boardroom and the processing line. 

NEW ALBANY, New York – Mike Townsley, president of BEF Foods, the food production division of Bob Evans Farms, has seen his share of changes, not only within the company he joined in 2013, but in his professional role and in the constantly evolving industry. Prior to accepting the position of president and COO at Bob Evans’ independent operating company, Owens Country Sausage, he spent decades working for some of the highest-profile meat companies alongside some of the industry’s most iconic leaders, including Bob Peterson at IBP, Joe Luter III at Smithfield and his longtime colleague, Bo Manly.  

During his tenure, Bob Evans has faced many challenges, including the consolidation of processing plants, the closure of scores of restaurants, a heated proxy battle, the hiring and departure of two CEOs, the construction of a stunning new multi-million dollar headquarters and moving the company’s base from Columbus to New Albany, Ohio, in 2013. Along the way, Townsley moved up the ranks and was appointed president of BEF Foods Inc. in 2008. He also served as co-CEO of Bob Evans for nearly a year, starting in late 2014.

Prior to 2003, he had mostly been focused on a career in sales. But, he points out, “You don’t spend 11 years at IBP and not have a pretty good understanding of the importance of operational excellence.”  

Evidence of his understanding of operations is perhaps most evident at the fresh pork plants he is charged with overseeing in Hillsdale, Michigan, and Xenia, Ohio.

“These two facilities produce what we produced at five [plants] at one time,” Townsley says. “Our cost structure is much improved from what it once was.”

Built in the early 1960s, the Xenia harvesting and processing plant was the second fresh sausage processing plant in the Bob Evans system in a city long remembered as ground zero for a devastating tornado in 1974 and a reputation for being a manufacturing hub. It has been expanded significantly twice through the years with another renovation being planned for the next 12 to 18 months. The throughput of the facility, Townsley says, “is pretty phenomenal,” with a capacity of approximately 500 head per day. Approximately 100 workers are employed at the 77,000-sq.-ft. plant. Nearly mirror images in terms of operations, the plants in Xenia and Hillsdale are the only surviving pork-processing operations since the closure of six other facilities, the last of which was its Richardson, Texas, plant shuttered in 2013. The Xenia facility’s production is primarily focused on one pound rolls and link sausage for retail as well as Bob Evans restaurants. The plants both make whole-hog, pre-rigor combo meat that is used in house for production requirements, and some shipped to Bob Evans’ Sulphur Springs, Texas, plant for production of precooked links, patties and in meat used to make its sausage gravy. The Xenia plant operates three link lines, two of which have been largely automated over the course of the past three years. Earlier this year, two lines were integrated to offer flexibility in what is known as Line 2, with the consolidation being based on the investment in a tray loading system.

“It just makes a very good-looking link that’s put into the tray,” Aaron Eskridge, plant manager, says with pride. “It’s like my second child,” he says with a smile.   

Read the entire story in the September issue of MEAT+POULTRY, which will soon be available digitally at: