Cunningham Meats is proud of the nearly 200 awards it has won for its products in state and national cured meats competitions, including the 2015 Reserve Grand Champion award in the American Cured Meat Championships.
Learning on the Job
Scott believes a key component of his business has been his on-the-job training and attending events like the Pennsylvania Association of Meat Processors (PAMP) and the American Association of Meat Processors (AAMP) conventions to learn more. In fact, he learned so much from these groups that he served on the board of directors and as president of both associations.
“I was invited to attend the short courses and meat processing programs put on by Joe Cordray, Ph.D., of Iowa State Univ. that were held in Burns Flat, Oklahoma, for many years,” he recalls. “There were things you learned there that others didn’t catch onto until many years later. There is something about small, family-owned meat processors. They are so willing to share their ideas. And when you get a few of them together, they start to build concepts and marketing ideas that one person alone could not do.”
Cunningham Meats attributes its reputation of quality and service for the growth in its private labeling trade with local producers. The company deals with eight such accounts. An area co-op called Penn Corner Farm Alliance features a marketing program for producers that even picks up privately labeled meats and delivers them to higher-end Pittsburgh restaurants.
In the catering area, Cunningham recalls when a local caterer was getting ready to retire and suggested that he step in to answer the call for roaster pigs:
“I had the smokehouse and the man who was retiring was cooking pigs in a pizza oven. Many customers said they liked my roaster pigs better. Then some customers suggested that I prepare roast beef, then chicken and ribs. I listened to them and they responded well to my meats. Guess what? They said I should also have baked beans, Cole slaws and macaroni salads. Things just grew from there.
“I try to limit what I do to what I can do well and efficiently,” Scott explains. “I decided that I would cater for those who could pick up the product. That eliminated the need for a paid staff to deliver and set up off site. I prepare and sell the food and let the customer take care of plates and other accessory items.”
Most of the events he prepares catered meals for involve feeding between 20 to 300 people at a time, and he does several of these jobs each week.
Scott, who once worked out of a closet under the stairs that he used as his office, admits that he needed more space and finally built a real office facing the highway. He also acknowledges that as the business has grown, he spends less time on the slaughter and processing floors.
“I’ve learned that I need to concentrate on things like ordering, payroll, and other clerical work,” he says.
“I know I have to be out on the floor for something every day, especially when we’re doing construction or making other changes, but I have to be the one who’s managing and thinking ahead...and listening to the customers.”