SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. — During a presentation to attendees of last week’s FPSA 2009 Process Expo Conference, executives with the industry’s leading meat processing equipment manufacturers got a snapshot of what it is their customers in the processing business consider to be the most valuable when it comes to industry partnerships.

David Miniat, president of Homewood, Ill.-based Ed Miniat, Inc., and South Chicago Packing, gave an informative speech to members of the Meat Industry Suppliers Alliance March 11, during a morning council session. Ed Miniat, Inc. manufactures cooked meats for the foodservice sector, while Chicago Packing produces edible oils, which are sold to bakeries and chemical companies. Mr. Miniat said it was a privilege to speak to the leaders of some of the industry’s most prominent equipment manufacturers, stressing that they are the very companies powering his family owned plant, where down-time is a four-letter word. He pointed out there are mutual benefits to be realized from open dialogue between processors and suppliers.

Mr. Miniat discussed the history of his companies and how knowing the background of businesses like his is important to establishing business relationships with suppliers. As the fourth generation operator of his family’s companies, he relies on the input of his suppliers to make suggestions and ask questions about the nuts and bolts of his companies.

"It’s unique to be born into a family business" and to grow up in a family where the business was the focus of everyone," he said. Back then operations were fairly fundamental. "All we needed then were a few knives," he said.

But times have obviously changed. Today, with annual sales topping $350 million, the company’s single processing plant is loaded with sophisticated technology from floor to ceiling.

He added that surviving for decades requires the companies to evolve with each generation, but each has a common theme: "When you’re fourth generation, you’re a steward of the family business," something Mr. Miniat takes very seriously.

He also discussed the importance of small businesses to the U.S. and the vital role they play in terms of wages paid, jobs created and all. He pointed out that statistics indicate only 3 percent of small businesses survive into the third or fourth generations.

Mr. Miniat gave attendees some pointers on "how to meet the needs of a company like mine."

Some of the qualities he looks for in suppliers are the same ones stressed by his companies. Among the attributes discussed were integrity, confidentiality, exceeding minimum standards, attention to food safety and dependability.

Because single-plant operations like his can’t shift production to other facilities during operational hiccups, down-time due to equipment failure is costly and when a problem does occur, a sense of urgency is vital.

"We need 24-hour technical support because we can’t afford any downtime."

He also expects to be provided three tier training with systems and equipment he purchases, including orientation, follow-up training after the equipment has been installed and a third round of training at the plant to review and retrain current and new workers.

In short: "undersell and over-deliver," he said.

He also stressed the importance of flexibility and creativity from his supplier-partners.

"Be willing to work within our system and understand our business even if it doesn’t result in the sale of your equipment."

Because information sharing is a valuable part of the relationship, Miniat encourages suppliers to poke around his plant and give him feedback on how the plant is set up and how it might operate better, without fear of stepping on toes of the plant operator.

Having served as the 2008 Chairman of the American Meat Institute, Miniat said "I saw the industry through an entirely different lens," in terms of the A.M.I. addressing macro issues such as immigration reform, sustainability and corn-based ethanol production. These were issues the trade organization took on while companies like Miniat’s focused on day-to-day operations.

Looking back, he said there is an analogy for the supplier community.

"You can help us keep an eye on the ball," he said by ensuring operations behind the scenes are being addressed, expectations are being exceeded and promises are being kept.