Reggie Jensen founded San Diego-based Jensen Meat Co. in 1958. The company specializes in ground beef and produces 75 million lbs annually. The 150,000 square-foot, modern, SQF 3 (Safe Quality Food) plant produces 300 SKUs consisting of both fresh and refrigerated – about 20% – and individually quick frozen (IQF) patties – about 80% – in varying shapes, sizes and lean-to-fat ratios. Jensen manufactures value-added products for both private label and its own brands, and a small amount of turkey and pork sausage as well.
A $9 million operations expansion in 2020 increased ground beef capacity and created 50 new jobs. It was part of a growth and improvement trajectory that seems to just be part of a business-as-usual approach that has seen the West Coast ground beef processor experience double-digit growth in recent years.
“Newly created jobs encourage economic growth and improve local quality of life,” said Abel Olivera, chief executive officer at Jensen Meat Co. “As a provider to our schools and businesses – as well as to our national consumers – we see our mission and vision perfectly complemented by this next step.”
Two IQF lines added 30 million lbs of capacity and a fresh processing room added 10 million lbs per year giving the company the tools to meet increased customer and consumer demand. The project pushed Jensen to over 100 million lbs shipped in 2020, and while the company’s marketplace is mainly in the United States, it does export small volumes to Mexico. It’s also working to increase business into Central and South America, the Caribbean, and working with national broker teams to expand globally.
“As we continue to grow, we look forward to involving our community even more,” Olivera said. “We are only as good as the people who work for us. We wouldn’t be here today without our dedicated team, and we believe our employees’ support will secure our bright future.”
About half of the products Jensen produces fall under the company’s own label – Jensen is a Certified Angus Beef (CAB) brand – with plans to continue increasing its branded business. Its latest branded items include bacon and cheddar patties, jalapeño patties, Swiss and mushroom patties, chipotle and Monterey patties.
The current mix of products go to retail (65%), food distribution (20%) and foodservice (15%), with all Jensen business conducted west of the Mississippi River. Patties are available in round, homestyle and oval with lean-to-fat ratios of 90/10, 85/15, 80/20 and 75/25. The technology-rich, 150,000-square-foot plant produces 75 million lbs of ground beef annually sold under iconic brands such as Fat Burger, Great Value, Kroger, Sam’s Choice and Sysco, as well as other licensed product extensions.
In 2019, Jensen’s ownership, private investors and brothers Gregg and Jeff Hamann, acquired controlling interest of Before the Butcher, a plant-based meat company. The acquisition is another example of Jensen’s steadfast and thoughtful plan of growth and expansion.
As plant-based protein alternatives show no signs of slowing down, the addition of Before the Butcher put Jensen Meat Co. in a position to add space, product selection and employment opportunities in the community, as well as pushing Before the Butcher out of “start-up” status and into a solid player in the segment.
While founder and president, Danny O’Malley, remains part owner of Before the Butcher, Jensen Meat added a 90,000-square-foot production facility and cold storage warehouse facility, a core of foodservice customers, plans for expanded retail and a broad product assortment.
This year, Jensen furthered its commitment to growth and product development by adding a plant-based division and expanding both its traditional ground beef and plant-based operations. It will also add personnel to manage co-packing opportunities for the new plant-based division.
The new division and facility give Jensen the ability to increase plant-based production, but also to test new processes, allowing for product development and new partnership opportunities. The facility is capable of everything necessary for complete production of plant-based products for foodservice and retail including dry mixing, blending, emulsifying, cooking, hydrating, and bulk and patty forming. These functions are especially attractive to smaller companies as they help to drive costs down.
“With 60 years’ experience, Jensen Meat has perfected how to process and pack quality ground beef,” Olivera said. “We now want to leverage our world-class knowledge to create a cost-effective process for producing plant-based products.”
Strong consumer interest in plant-based alternatives and the goal of contributing to making the global food supply sustainable reinforce Jensen’s strategy to keep on growing and to increase the production of affordable proteins.
“We can create, process and pack plant-based products in ways that are cost effective and innovative,” Olivera added. “We want to help bright minds out there that have the same goal of creating healthy, low-cost foods from alternative sources of protein, which also play a part in reducing world hunger.”
Jensen Meat Co. believes in taking care of the planet and shows it through the way it does business and through the partners it does business with – partners like the nonprofit Montana Prairie Reserve which supports wildlife-friendly ranching and large-scale conservation. Upon moving into its current facility, Jensen made headlines for its commitment to sustainability initiatives in the new plant, in its fleet and for the standards its suppliers meet and exceed.
“Sustainability is essential in our industry, and it’s good business practice,” Olivera said. “We are proud to be leaders in our field, reducing costs while ensuring our customers get top-quality, beef products.”
In November of 2019, Jensen announced and demonstrated an environmental initiative of a high degree by installing solar panels and an electric vehicle charging station at its processing facility. Jensen positioned the solar panels on its carport to decrease waste, reduce its energy footprint and support the company’s overall goal of offsetting energy use. Aside from being the right thing to do, Jensen Meat Co. knows responsible manufacturing makes for both high quality products and happy customers, and consumers that feel good about their purchases.
Jensen decided to partner with SunPower and install the company’s high-efficiency solar panels for the plant’s on-site alternative energy production after extensive research. Jensen can adjust and tune the panels for variances in weather and other environmental conditions. The SunPower panels almost eliminate Jensen Meats’ production impact, a key factor in the decision considering the company’s intention as product lines, facilities and the team all continue to grow.
“We continually strive to develop unique sustainability programs for our company,” Olivera said, “Our partnerships with local companies – as well as national leaders in the renewable energy space – helped us find a mutually beneficial solution that complements our environmental mission.”
A key factor in Jensen’s mission to continue and maintain a sustainable food supply requires the company to take care of its employees, contractors and suppliers during the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jensen has instituted comprehensive safety protocols for every facet of its process and working environments.
On the processing floor, all employees and contractors have been issued reusable, cloth face coverings and workstations have been reconfigured to facilitate proper social distancing. In cases where the nature of the job did not allow for reconfiguration, plastic shields were installed. In certain cases, lines run at half speed to ensure social distancing until another means can be utilized.
Common areas such as break rooms and restrooms, including high touch areas like handrails, counter tops, computer kiosks, time clocks, etc., have a significant increase in cleaning and sanitization. In processing areas, sanitation crews perform regular foaming and fogging of surfaces, walls, floors, doors, locker areas, work areas, etc. with EPA registered sanitizing agents.
Jensen also deploys machines that use quaternary ammonium compounds for cleaning around common areas. The machines are hygienic and in continuous use throughout all three shifts. Instantaneous warm water is available for washing 100% of the time as well as extra alcohol-based hand sanitizer dispensers.
Adjusted break times and three additional lunchrooms increased employee separation and social distancing. The lunch areas had plastic shielding installed to protect each employee. Jensen also hired an on-site nurse to provide services during each shift.
On the corporate side, roughly 75% of employees work from home and the company has eliminated groups and teams from meeting in person. For those individuals that do come into the office, face coverings are provided, and temperatures are taken before entry.
All non-essential business travel and intra-facility traffic have been restricted, and employees returning from vacation are screened according to CDC guidelines. Currently, Jensen does not enforce any discipline on employees that miss work due to illness as long as workers follow the required call-in protocol.