Nashville, Tennessee, recently served as the backdrop for a celebration that was 75 years in the making. Complete with sparkling wine, candle light, live music and two giant sheet cakes emblazoned with the Carl Buddig and Co. logo, customers, Buddig family members and employees gathered in a ballroom at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center during the 2018 Annual Meat Conference to celebrate a milestone made even more significant by the company’s status as a family-owned business.
“There’s not a lot of family businesses out there, so we think we’ve got something special,” CEO Bob Buddig, told attendees. “It’s our pledge to be the best owners we can be. We’ve been very successful, and I think we’ve got some unbelievable momentum going right now. So, it’s an exciting time to be at Carl Buddig.”
Growing up Buddig
Family is the foundation and in the fabric of Carl Buddig and Co., which currently is run by a sibling team of five – Karen Buddig Noble, Tom Buddig, Tim Buddig, Bob Buddig and Roger Buddig. “We have titles within the organization, but we are really a sibling team. In some cases, titles aren’t referred to often because we’re all equal owners,” Bob explains. “But we do act as one voice in some situations.”
The siblings took similar paths to reach their current positions within the company. Bob says they did whatever jobs they could which were limited because of the labor union.
In their high school years, says Tom Buddig, executive vice president of marketing, the siblings might spend a given summer operating a mixer, grinder or stuffer. It was not unusual for a Buddig to be working in the smokehouse.
“We created a sales ‘hit team,’” he recalls. “We would go into various markets to review a market situation, whether it be changing a broker, educating a broker, working with a distributor, and there would be five or six Buddigs that would all fly into a market and work there from Monday until Thursday night – delivering product in the backroom of a store; building displays in a store; merchandising – that type of thing.”
Trust (and family) matters
For the Buddigs, the positive aspects of sharing a business far outweigh any negatives that may arise. Bob says a shared mission and core values are what make the Buddig sibling team effective at running the company.
“We walk the walk and talk the talk,” Bob says, “so, by having the same values and mission and agreeing on it we can then have a high level of trust and that’s very, very important. That helps us move quicker; our decisions are very long-term in nature.
“We’re also, as a sibling team, very transparent among ourselves,” he adds. “I would say the pros outweigh the negatives. Sometimes we have to step out of our comfort levels just like anybody in business. But as a whole, I think the positives make us able to work quicker and cover so many areas.”
As a family business, Carl Buddig and Co. is different from a publicly traded company that is trying to achieve quarterly targets, Tom says. “We really do believe that we’re stewards of this business for the next generation just as it was for us,” he explains.
Demonstrating good stewardship is part of preserving the family business. Another important practice is properly educating the fourth generation of owners about the business and what is expected of them as owners. Participation in organizations such as the Loyola Family Business Center has helped the current sibling team establish best-practices to guide future generations of Buddigs. The Family Business Center – which is a member of the Loyola Business Leadership Hub within Loyola Univ. Chicago’s Quinlan School of Business – joins business-owning families to share knowledge and learn strategies for sustaining and growing familybusinesses.
“We have a family constitution, so that the next generation knows what the rules are to join the business,” Bob says. “After graduating from an accredited school, they have to work outside the business for two years for somebody else and gain some experience and some regimen somewhere else.
“There could be 13 Buddigs in the family business. Some are going to be active in the business and some may not,” he says of the fourth generation.
There are quarterly family meetings to attend, during which family members review all the information that the Carl Buddig and Co. board of directors sees, including financials – so that family members understand the state of the business and the direction of the business for the short term and long term. And, they try to hold an annual family event.
“We try to educate them to be the best owners, and they understand that in order for the company to succeed, we have to have the best owners,” Bob says.
The “family feel” also drives the Buddigs’ choice of employees which currently numbers above 2,000. The company tries to hire and promote from within as much as possible. Experience in the food industry is a quality that makes an individual a good fit to work at Carl Buddig and Co. The average tenure of a Buddig employee is about 17 years.
“We usually prefer to hire people that may have come from a smaller company background because we kind of operate that way,” Bob says. “Our culture is not a big corporate culture and we have a very family feel. Our offices are not very fancy. We treat people more like family.”
But like many companies operating in an economy with near-full employment, finding and retaining good team members is a challenge. “There’s a shortage of people for jobs available,” Bob says. “That’s sort of a standard; everybody’s got the sameproblem.”
The past 75 years has seen the Buddig family of products grow far beyond the back of a truck driven by the company’s namesake, Carl Buddig, who founded the business in 1943. Products bearing the Buddig name over the years include chipped beef, spaghetti sauce, and chopped, pressed and cooked beef. But the company’s thin-sliced lunch meats remain a consumer favorite.
The company’s growth story is highlighted by strategic acquisitions and product innovations. In 1981, Carl Buddig acquired the Old Wisconsin Sausage Co., and that business became a springboard to other product categories. Seeing an opportunity to capture market share in the fast-growing meat snack category, Carl Buddig and Co. expanded the Old Wisconsin portfolio of meat snacks with the introduction of Fast Fuel Sausage Sticks and Bites in 2015.
In 2017, CBQ LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Carl Buddig and Co. acquired all the assets of South Holland, Illinois-based Rupari Food Services, a producer of branded and private label restaurant-quality barbecued meats, including Tony Roma’s and Butcher’s Prime retail brands. Bob says the barbecue products have opened several sales channels – including leading distributors and foodservice operators – for the cooked beef side of the Carl Buddig business.
In the same year, CBQ and Kingsford charcoal reached a multi-year agreement to produce Kingsford’s branded meals of pre-cooked ribs and barbecue. “Kingsford is a highly respected brand across categories with exceptional consumer awareness. This partnership is a natural fit for Buddig as we continue to grow our product line of fresh, great-tasting meats,” Tom Buddig said at the time the partnership was announced. “We’re excited to expand our line of pre-cooked barbecued ribs and entrees under the Kingsford brand while continuing to drive synergies with their barbecue sauces, flavored charcoal and grilling products.”
And in January 2018, Carl Buddig and Co. continued to scale its operations with the acquisition of a new manufacturing facility in Montgomery, Illinois. “The facility is being used to produce lunch meat and some sausage products,” Bob says of the 280,000-sq.-ft. facility. “We have a lot of growth in our branded business, our foodservice business and obviously our store brands as well.”
The purchase of the Montgomery building provides the company plenty of space to grow capacity and a chance to pursue business that might have eluded the company in the past because of capacity concerns.
Additionally, the Montgomery plant gives Carl Buddig and Co. room to grow without another acquisition. “…we’ve always been playing catch-up,” Tom says. “We work three shifts and weekends and then realize we need a new building.
“This way,” he says, “we have the space, I think, to grow into and the new business opportunities that may afford us.”