The culture of custom innovation behind Stampede Meat’s endless capabilities 

America’s number one pre-portioned protein supplier, Stampede Meat (Stampede) is an innovative protein solutions company founded in 1995. Focused on custom protein development and processing, the business offers a truly unique experience for its customers, which span leading restaurants, retailers, club stores, food service distributors, home delivery, and military channels.

As its name suggests, Stampede creates seasoned, prepared, value-added meats, portion cuts, and fully cooked meats including beef, chicken, turkey, and pork. But its product portfolio does not stop at meat. The business has diversified to meet all foodservice and retail needs, offering a range of prepared meals, soups, vegetables, and even vegan protein alternatives.

Brock Furlong, President and CEO of Stampede

“We started 29 years ago to serve primarily food service customers on their core steak programs, as restaurants no longer wanted to cut their own steaks and were seeking companies to bring steaks in already portioned and ready to grill,” begins Brock Furlong, President and CEO of Stampede. “While today’s business is dramatically different from when we started, we have fortunately never forgotten our roots as Chicago’s finest butcher.

Tight-knit team
“Today, we produce all proteins from raw meat and battered, breaded cuts to vegetables and alternative protein sources like falafel and grain-based burgers. While we are still butchers by trade, our primary growth is in fully cooked proteins – we even dabble in gently cooked, human-grade pet food and bone broth.

“Our growth has been spectacular, but it’s not only down to us; it has been driven by one very clear and passionate commitment to better serve our customers’ needs. It is their growth and success that has allowed the business to expand and our team members to prosper alongside them.

“We have around 40 management owners who are part of the Stampede family and are truly invested in the success of our customers, the performance of our team, and the accountability they have to one another,” he continues. “We are a tight-knit community that measures the business like we are a $2-billion company, reacts to customer opportunities like we are a $20-million company, and interacts with customers and employees like we are a $2-million company. It is this magic concept that keeps us grounded every day as we work to better serve our customers.”

Stampede’s capabilities are almost endless, ranging from raw meat to battered, breaded, and skewered options, as well as sous vide offerings, which are becoming an increasingly important share of the business.

Product portfolio
Its seared products offer a unique full-surface searing and fire-grilling process for whole muscle, portioned, shredded, and pulled proteins, providing locked-in moisture retention and flavors through a sous vide, cook-in-bag process.

“As we provide purely custom solutions, we have no set product or price list, but rather a list of current capabilities and a willingness to solve challenges and provide opportunities for our customers,” says Brock. “This custom mindset has led to a rapid expansion of both types and formats of products. Our business is currently made up of around 50 percent ready-to-eat and 50 percent ready-to-cook across all protein types and formats, from whole muscle to grind products.

Customer collaboration
“We’ve also expanded in the market of full meals, sides, and soups, again driven by new customer opportunities. Some of our prepared meals include curried goat, red wine braised short rib, Texas-style brisket, and arrabbiata-style chicken, all of which can be paired with a wide selection of complementary side dishes.

“We’re always looking to add capabilities to enhance our product offering, as well as identifying new partnerships to enable us to diversify in terms of geographic location to reach more customers. Specifically, we’re continuing to invest in our searing capabilities to keep up with growing demand for key products like burnt ends and pulled pork or chicken products.

“We think of ourselves as an extension of our customers’ strategy, engaging to ensure they achieve their goals by adding capabilities and capacity to meet their evolving requirements,” he adds. “To facilitate our passion for innovation, we have a full culinary team including two full-time chefs that are often engaged in one-on-one conversations with customers to understand and listen to their needs. As a custom producer, our innovation is based purely on intimate collaboration with our customers, our suppliers, and one another.

Reciprocal relationships
“The key to such positive, longstanding relationships is transparency. We call it being ‘face to face, belly to belly,’ to reflect our dedication to building deep and committed relationships focused on mutually profitable growth. We find that genuinely listening to customers and trusting one another leads to a solution that achieves their targeted margins while also meeting our profit expectations.”

Boosting production capacity
In terms of facilities, Stampede occupies four sites in the Chicago area with a combined size of approximately 285,000 square feet and a production capacity in excess of 350 million pounds annually. “The business grew up in the Chicago market, but five years ago, the leadership team recognized the emerging need for us to supply sous vide products for both retail and foodservice customers across North America,” Brock explains. “To achieve such growth, we built a significant, 142,000-square-foot facility in New Mexico, marking our first facility outside of Illinois and boosting our annual production capacity by 100 million pounds.

“We’ve also established partnerships in Georgia and Canada to provide a full North American platform solution for both existing and new customers. We’re currently finalizing our investment in sous vide cook in Canada, which will allow us to better serve North America customers without the risk of complicated border crossings.”

Investing in people
Stampede is also passionate about its employees, with several initiatives to promote a positive working culture and support personal development, such as its world-class butcher certification program, which celebrated its ten-year anniversary in 2023. Encompassing a combination of education and hands-on work, the program helps employees develop a rich understanding of meat fundamentals and cutting techniques.

“Our culture is based around three things: positivity, engagement, and fun, which all have one thing in common – clear expectations,” Brock states. “What we do isn’t necessarily unique, but how we do it is very much so. We believe in investing in our people at all levels of the organization, as adding knowledge, skills, and abilities to our team is central to our success.

“I view the Stampede team as my second family,” he reflects. “Personally, I started in a leadership role within the industry at a young age, probably too young, so I had to rely on the knowledge, skills, and experience of those around me. While I certainly know more today than I did then, I believe that we are collectively wiser as a team than as individuals. Recognizing, accessing, and leveraging the collective knowledge and abilities of the full Stampede team is what makes being President and CEO of Stampede such a privilege.”

As the conversation turns to the future, Brock is confident in the company’s plans. “Our growth in 2024 is focused almost exclusively on the sous vide cooked market,” he proposes. “We’re working hard alongside our customers to solve labor, cost, and food safety challenges, which our sous vide capabilities are uniquely positioned to solve head-on.

“Further afield, our goal is not a specific set of numbers or ideas, but rather a passion to better satisfy both current and new customers,” Brock concludes. “Through continuous investment, we’ll add capacity and capabilities to continue enabling them to surpass their own growth objectives and surpass their consumers’ expectations.”