COLLEGE STATION California has its wines. Wisconsin has its cheeses. And what would go better with them than the unique sausage varieties from Texas?
To help achieve that goal, Texas A&M University recently completed a survey of small meat processors in Texas to help them better market what they do the best processing or smoking meats such as sausage, jerky, hams and barbecue brisket.
“What we would like to do is develop a gourmet concept of Texas’ small meat processor,” said Dr. John Siebert, associate professor of agricultural economics at Texas A&M University.
“We’re not going to beat California with a big wine industry, we’re not going to beat Wisconsin with a big cheese industry. What we have is a smoked meat industry, very tied into the various cultures we have in Texas.”
Dr. Jeff Savell, a meats specialist with Texas A&M, said the smoked meats industry is greatly influenced by the ethnic diversity of Texas.
“Most processed meats have their roots based on German, Polish, Czech or even Cajun influence,” Savell explained. “With the number of communities in Texas where these groups of people immigrated, we developed a strong love for sausage.”
Also, Texans love to cook outdoors. “Products such as sausage are great for outdoor cooking, especially for barbecues,” he said. “Products such as jerky appeal to the outdoors persons such as hunters and fishers.”
Still, the number of meat processors has been declining over the years. Siebert and his colleague Dr. Rudy Nayga, also an associate professor of agricultural economics, want to put a stop to that decline by providing the best management information possible.
“At one time Texas was dotted with little meat locker and slaughter plants, sometimes several to a town,” according to Siebert. “Today’s small meat processors are more sophisticated. They are far less likely to focus on slaughtering for local ranchers and much more likely to focus on creating unique sausage and smoked meat items. Consequently they are on the threshold of creating a gourmet industry here in Texas.”
David Cone, with Chappell Hill Sausage Co., explained that a big obstacle in the wholesale meat processing industry is governmental regulation.
“A lot of people out there are not willing to take the gamble. It takes a lot of money to meet the regulations,” Cone said.
Siebert added, “We are economists and thus we are not qualified to tell these sausage makers how to make the best sausage. They already know how to do that. Instead our contribution in this research has been to sort participating firms into profitability groups. In this manner firm managers can see how their own firm stacks up and what to do about it.”
The study focused on factors like retail store square footage, plant location, types of products made, percentage of on-site sales and so on. The research goal has been to establish operating guidelines.
“Anyone can tell a business owner the he or she needs more money in the bank. We wanted to tell them what a business looks like which generates that money,” Siebert said.
Surprisingly, Siebert and Nayga found that the most successful business are not the largest in terms of sales or in terms of assets. Instead the Texas A&M researchers found the factors that contribute to business success and profit to be shopping center locations, high levels of in-store sales, low levels of sales to institutional buyers (schools and hospitals) and low levels of employees.
Rural locations near towns were also very successful, however industrial and older downtown locations were not as successful in terms of profits.
“The regional economy of these small town is probably not dependent on them,” Siebert explained, “but the image of the town could be very dependent on a local meat processor.”
For example, sausage will forever be connected to the name of Snook, a tiny town located about 10 miles west of College Station.
Tim Rabroker, president of Slovacek Sausage there, said that is not accidental. Their marketing strategy deliberately cultivates the taste buds of Texas A&M students.
“We feel if we get loyal fans while they are students here, and they move and have families of their own, they will still pick us up off of the shelf.”
The ultimate aim of the survey is to help point meat processors to the marketing strategies that will help their businesses grow even faster.
Many of the respondents said they would be interested in grouping their stores together. “Together, they can attract more sales than they can alone,” Siebert said.
Additionally, Siebert said those who responded to the survey said they would be interested in joint sale efforts, taste contests, food shows and fairs in order to attract customers.
Cone said his most difficult task is getting his product known and recognized so consumers will buy it. However, even with most of his wholesale sales going to nearby Houston, his company’s success is due mainly to word of mouth now, he said.
“Our product is basically known in the Houston area,” Cone said. “If we go into a new area, we may put it on sale, we may do some demonstrations.”