Upgrades and Renovations
The original locker plant, which once boasted 300 rental lockers to store frozen foods, also disappeared, replaced by a 7,200-sq.-ft. modern facility.
“We built the new plant in 1996,” he explains. “We still have the Sinclair gas station that draws people. But we have discontinued being a grocery store. We couldn’t compete with the big chain stores 20 miles away. They beat us badly on price and we couldn’t keep our products fresh, so we changed direction to focus on being a country meat shop.
“People come in and step back when they see the higher prices. Yet, they know how and where the products were made and are willing to pay more per pound, both to support our local agriculture and to take comfort in knowing the source of their meal.”
The new location underwent some changes as well a year-and-a-half ago, moving from a white-painted wall motif to a 2,000-sq.-ft. retail area that has a log-cabin look and feel. Six full-time employees and three part-timers augment the family to constitute the work force.
Den’s Country Meats installed glass-door self-service display cases, but also began to utilize more bunker display cases. Today, the retail store represents 30 percent of the company business, but the biggest growth for the business has been in the private labeling and wholesale accounts.
Nebraska beef once represented a 2:1 ratio over other meats sold in the shop, but pork now accounts for 60 percent of overall sales. Under federal inspection, the firm averages 25 hogs and a dozen beef weekly.
Those traversing Highway 50 will spot a recently installed billboard promoting the meat shop, a form of advertising Schaardt says has been a boon for his business.
Those coming through the retail store doors are enticed by 35 varieties of sausage, jerky, ring bolognas and snack sticks along with the fresh meats service counter.
“People stop by for gas and grab some of the snack items, but a lot of them look around and buy other meats for full meals,” he notes. “When they come back the next time they are bringing coolers to buy more meats to take home.”
Deer processing once represented 40 percent of the firm’s business, but when Chronic Wasting Disease devastated much of the local herd, the company went from doing 1,500 animals a year to about 500. Schaardt says it’s coming back slowly and his ability to produce deer products from sausages to snack items will attract hunters back as the local herd rebuilds.
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