Regarding the management and staff of Valley Meat Co. in Modesto, Calif., Director of Marketing Adam Heffner describes them as “warm and fuzzy business people.” Explaining the company focuses on maintaining a comfortable, family-like atmosphere, he says the business is “not at all abrasive.” His father, owner, President and CEO Russell Heffner, agrees.
“We want to keep people smiling – our employees, our customers and everyone we deal with,” Russell Heffner says. “We’re very friendly and sometimes it’s to our detriment – it can inhibit our growth. We loan equipment to other meat companies – some take advantage of us and others are really refreshed by how we work. It’s just how we do things.”
This genial way of operating does not seem to have hampered Valley Meat’s business. Virgil and Dolores Heffner (Russell’s parents) founded the company in 1959 in a small facility to supply small quantities of meat – primarily ground beef – to local restaurants. Russell Heffner insists his parents’ “old–fashioned values of hard work and determination” enabled the operation to become a full-service supplier of beef, pork and poultry products to customers in retail, food service and the military, as well as private-label clients.
In its 156,000-square-foot facility, Valley Meat processes and packs hundreds of meat products to HACCP standards. The company may have started with ground beef, but it now offers a comprehensive list of products for a “healthy and demanding lifestyle.” These include various cuts of steak, stew meat, beef and chicken for fajitas, and pork tri-tips with teriyaki, Mediterranean and Southwestern seasonings. It also offers many organic products.
“We serve a wide range of customers and have the ability to adapt to new products quickly,” Russell Heffner says. “We are hands-on, and the owner and general manager are always available if a customer has a question. We have great people here, and we have very close relationships with our clients.”
Creating New Concepts
In the last few years, Valley Meat’s co-packing business has grown substantially, so much so that it occupies nearly half of the company’s sales. “There are companies that need a product made, but they don’t have the capabilities or facility space to do it, so they come to us,” Russell Heffner says. Even with a boom in the co-pack sector of its business, however, Valley Meat is beginning to focus on expanding in retail.
“Foodservice and military dominate our business in terms of volume, and those areas have a lot of paperwork, but they allow us to get to the end-user easily,” Adam Heffner explains. “Retail is more labor-intensive because we have to create a concept, design the package and make sure we’re conveying the right message. But in the last few years, we’ve been increasing our retail presence through our private-label business, and we want to do more retail on our own. We have the manufacturing expertise, and now we just have to spend more time on marketing.”
Meat of the Matter
As the company plans to expand in retail, the Heffners are confident Valley Meat has a team in place that will provide any support necessary.
“We have a great team of supervisors who always work closely with everyone on staff, which keeps our operation safe and secure,” Adam Heffner says.
Additionally, the company boasts many long-term employees. A number of staff members have been with Valley Meat for more than 15 years, and overall, it adds up to a lot of experience in the meat industry. “Not long ago, we were working with a very large meat producer who needed us to do some R&D for them,” Adam Heffner says. “They came to us for our expertise.”
And although the company has plans to grow, Valley Meat has no plans to super-size its operation.
“I have no desire to sell out to another company,” Russell Heffner says. “I want this company to stay small to medium-sized and privately held. America was built on businesses like that, and we want to continue on that path and achieve the American dream. We will grow the business, but still keep it manageable for the family. It’s all about keeping people smiling.”