Superior Farms vice president of operations Shane Mackenzie (left) and  president and CEO Rick Stott spearheaded the project to build a new lamb plant in Dixon, California. 

DIXON, Calif. – Rick Stott is relatively new to the lamb industry, his tenure as president and CEO at Superior Farms started just a few years ago. Prior to assuming the top spot at Superior Farms in early 2013, Stott spent 20 years in the beef industry, with Agri Beef Co., based in Boise, Idaho. When he left Agri Beef he was serving as executive vice president. He was an integral member of the management team that helped grow the integrated beef company from a $125 million firm when he first started, to a company with revenues of more than $1 billion at the time he left.

“I got a lot of grief when I decided to go from the cattle business to the sheep business. Being one of the key executives at Agri Beef, it came as a big shock to people that I would leave the company and the beef industry,” Stott explains. “But it gave me the opportunity to do something in my career that I had always wanted to do – lead a company.

“I also saw a great opportunity to take the skills I had learned at Agri Beef – the skills about branding, market segmentation and product differentiation – and apply them to the lamb industry, and specifically to Superior Farms.”

“We believe the opportunity for the future of this industry has never been better. That’s why we built this plant,” Stott says. “We’re so optimistic about what we have right in front of us that we’re willing to invest our own money as employee owners. We see something in this industry that’s pretty exciting.”

Superior Farms was founded in 1964 in Ellensburg, Washington, and in 1981, opened its Dixon facility (which was originally built in 1923). The company has an additional plant in Denver, which it took ownership of in the late 1990s, as well as a plant in Hawarden, Iowa, formerly Iowa Lamb, which now produces pet treats for the company.

The decision to build a new plant in Dixon was a relatively simple one once the choices were considered, Stott says. “Our old plant was a 1920s vintage plant, so we were going to have to make some changes in the next five years or so. Our options were to try to redesign it bit by bit, not knowing what we might find when we peeled back the layers. Or just leave California altogether and work out of our Colorado plant. The third option was to build a completely new facility,” he explains. “We had to ask ourselves if we were committed to the American lamb industry, and if we were committed to expanding the American lamb industry. If so, building a new plant in California was a must from a big picture standpoint.”

Project plans

From groundbreaking to ribbon cutting, the new Dixon plant took around 16 months to build. The plant celebrated its one-year anniversary in October. When Stott came on as president and CEO 3 ½ years ago, making plans to build a new plant was one of the first items on his agenda.

After the decision was made to invest $17 million into building the new plant, the planning process began. Since the plant dated back to 1923, serving both as a beef and lamb processing plant, part of the planning process included examining operations at the existing facility to see if any equipment or processes could be moved to the new building. Mackenzie and other members of the company’s operations team spent months researching options for equipment and processing procedures – they even travelled to other facilities around the world for ideas.

One goal behind building a new facility was efficiency – both in the use of space and energy. This translated into building a better plant, but not necessarily a bigger one. The previous plant was 65,000 sq. ft. – the new plant is 50,000 sq. ft.

Read the rest of M+P’s article on Superior Farms’ Dixon lamb plant in the December issue, which will be available digitally on the week of Dec. 5, 2016.