In 2017, Creekstone Farms’ sales topped $651 million based on beef supplied from its storied 350,000-sq.-ft., Arkansas City, Kansas plant. The plant processes Black Angus exclusively and 767 employees put 294,511 cattle through the Temple Grandin-designed handling system last year. Creekstone began processing at the facility in 2001 in an arrangement with the original builder, Future Beef Operations. It was touted as the most modern processing plant in the US. Creekstone acquired the plant out of bankruptcy in 2003, but its success started modestly on a small farm in Kentucky.
On the farm in Kentucky, Creekstone began to develop genetics and isolate the types of Angus cattle it wanted in the program at that point. The company custom processed about 500 head per week at Nebraska Beef and its roots had always been in the Angus breed.
“From a supply base, we never really changed the philosophy of high-quality, high-grade, Angus cattle being the base for everything that happens,” says Ryan Meyer, director of cattle procurement. “That was the No. 1 rule; have a consistent product that was backed by Angus genetics.”
Creekstone launched its Natural Black Angus Beef in 2004 and the following year became qualified to export non-hormone treated cattle (NHTC) to the European Union (EU). This qualification helped open the EU market for US beef. The company worked extensively with third-party verifiers to create a program for exporting to Japan after the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the US in 2003. The process of working with third-party verifiers on the export program led to Creekstone working with the USDA to allow third-party verification and apply it to NHTC for EU export.
“Had we not been able to figure out how to third-party verify the cattle for that system, it never would have turned into what it is now,” Meyer says.
That ability helped Creekstone get product into places it hadn’t been able to before. It’s also helped create a competitive advantage by keeping other companies at bay due to the rigors they must go through to make it happen.
“We’re very small, one percent of the kill in the US, but we’re a Top 3 exporter to Europe. Same way with China right now,” Meyer adds.
Creekstone continued, and continues still today, to curate high-quality Black Angus genetics. In 2010, The New York Times published an article after the beef caught the attention of high-end chefs across the city. In the same year, CNBC’s Tyler Mathison did a story on the network’s Power Lunch program titled “Blue Chip Beef.” The following year Creekstone launched its e-commerce business and began selling its beef online.
In 2013, tragedy struck and fire destroyed a major production area of the plant, but Creekstone bounced back with a $56 million expansion. Creekstone reached $626 million in sales for 2014, the same year the expansion was completed.
The programs and products of Creekstone Farms all carry a uniqueness similar to that of the company itself. They include case-ready beef, Duroc pork, certified humane natural Black Angus beef, a case-ready trimmed program for retail, and the only grain fed non-GMO program of any scale.
In 2017, integrated trading and investment conglomerate Marubeni acquired the company from private equity firm, Sun Capital Partners. Marubeni intends to invest in Creekstone’s future, rather than build it up for liquidation.
“Marubeni came along and acquired us last July and that’s been really refreshing to us that have been here for a long time,” Meyer says. “Now we have the opportunity to really talk about long-term issues.”
President and CEO Kaz Nomura agrees. “I think we have to keep growing,” he says. Nomura and the rest of the executive team agree that a second shift is the starting point. Nomura goes on to say that three to five years is an achievable target for adding a second production shift. The plant currently runs a single shift, five days a week, with a sanitation shift operating each evening. Short term, it might add a sixth day, Saturday, to the schedule this summer.