J and G Foods
Issue Summer 10
J&G Foods has found its groove through case-ready meats, with a focus on marinated meats, organic beef and Australian lamb.
As the recession hit countless businesses over the past three years, J&G Foods Inc. of Sutton, Mass., has seen its business shift into higher gear. “Despite the recession, business at J&G Foods continues to grow and we are reinvesting in our people, plant and technology,” President Joe Piperato says. “Our goal is to continuously improve our capabilities to serve our customer partners.”
J&G Foods is a meat processor that began operations in 1999 with a core business of frozen portion-controlled meats for the foodservice and home delivery markets. With that business in hand, Piperato and Vice President Gary Eaton initiated a new strategy in 2004 to develop custom cut, case-ready fresh and marinated meats for supermarkets.
Piperato and Eaton also recognized that supermarkets were under increasing pressure to offer a wider selection of meats. At the same time, the pool of skilled retail meat cutters was diminishing. They concluded that the core efficiencies of centralized production and packaging technologies at J&G Foods could provide retailers a host of advantages, including longer shelf life, less shrinkage, better inventory control, cost savings and promotional flexibility.
Rather than challenge large established processors of case-ready meats, J&G Foods looked for niche market opportunities that were suited to a smaller company like J&G Foods with its nimbleness and passion for service.
The company’s breakthrough came in 2005 when a New England retail chain selected J&G Foods to custom manufacture its marinated meats. The individual stores throughout the chain had previously handled the job. J&G Foods took over the entire production of marinated beef, poultry and pork for the company. Both companies have since seen steady growth in marinated meat sales as a result of the partnership.
Eaton underscores that such successful relationships do not just happen; they have to be nurtured. “For example, we get together regularly to review the seasonal performance of the marinated meats in place, and we taste test new marinades for the upcoming season,” Eaton says. “We closely collaborate to refine meat specs and packaging styles, resulting in better performance for the retailer’s meat case and bottom line. As a partner, we want to stay ahead of both opportunities and challenges for our customers.”
Keying off trends in consumer demand, J&G Foods has established natural and organic beef product lines. The company partnered with an all-natural beef supplier several years ago, as well as with an organic beef supplier in 2008, when J&G became an organically certified plant. “Both product lines have gained steadily, but our case-ready organic beef really took off in 2009 via new partnerships with a highly respected regional supermarket chain and a national wholesale club,” Piperato states.
Now, after only 10 years in business, J&G Foods has solidified a strategic partnership with the largest importer of Australian lamb in the United States. The two companies will collaborate to offer case-ready, fresh-portioned Australian lamb to retailers in the eastern half of the United States. They begin their venture this summer with a major East Coast retail chain as their first customer.
J&G Foods’ frozen products are stocked by leading foodservice distributors in the Northeast and sold to restaurants, healthcare facilities, colleges, universities and even Major League Baseball parks. Consumers across the United States have purchased private label frozen steaks, chops and specialty items manufactured by J&G from door-to-door home delivery firms. More recently, J&G Foods has carved out a niche to provide case-ready fresh and marinated meats to supermarkets and wholesale clubs.
“Over the years, we’ve seen shifts in market share among the various meat proteins. We’ve also seen consumers require meats that are better trimmed, leaner and which offer the benefits inherent with stricter protocols and certifications, such as for organic, natural and grass-fed meats,” Piperato says. “Consumers are also on the look-out for added value, such as seasonings, marinades and pre-cooked options. For J&G Foods, this evolution has offered tremendous opportunity to leverage our greatest strengths: flexibility, commitment to quality and fierce dedication to customer satisfaction.”
J&G Foods has made the appropriate investments in its people, plant and technology to take advantage of the shift toward case-ready fresh and marinated meats at retail. It also has formed strategic supply partnerships that are essential to maintain continuity of raw materials. J&G Foods appears to have a good grasp on how it will move forward. Piperato and Eaton see it the same way. “Case-ready fresh meats will receive the greatest focus at J&G Foods, but especially our chosen niches in organic, natural and grass-fed meats, marinated meats and Australian lamb,” Piperato says.
To keep up with the expanding business, J&G Foods has been steadily renovating its 70,000-square-foot plant over the past three years. A new state-to-the-art refrigeration system was installed. The dock and all production areas were revamped with new insulated panel systems on walls and ceilings. These areas also received new flooring.
New energy-saving lighting and electrical systems were installed throughout the facility, along with new sprinkler and security systems. A new and substantially larger compressed air system was implemented to assure both capacity and the purest possible air devoid of contaminants.
Potential clients have taken note of the time and money J&G Foods has invested in its facilities. As a result, the plant has become a marketing tool for the company. “At the halfway point in renovations, potential new customers could see what we were doing, where the company was headed,” Eaton says. “It made their decisions about J&G Foods much easier.”
J&G’s long-term banker, TD Bank, and National Grid’s Energy Incentive Program supported the improvements. “We made the investment and National Grid gave us a substantial rebate as specifically outlined by their energy-saving protocols,” Piperato states. “Key vendors [such as] American Refrigeration Company and American Insulated Panel did fine work and were extremely accommodating during renovations as they worked around our production schedule.”
J&G Foods employs 80 associates, many of whom have been with the company since its inception. “We mean it when we say our people are our most important asset,” Piperato says. “They are the ones who make all this happen.” As part of the renovation process, J&G Foods made sure to include some improvements that directly benefitted the employees. The women’s and men’s locker rooms were upgraded, along with the cafeteria/break room.
Piperato says the company’s employees enjoy the pizza lunch the company provides monthly, which brings everyone together and lifts spirits. In July, as a change of pace, Eaton and Piperato donned chef hats and grilled J&G Foods burgers in the parking lot. “Our organizational structure is very flat,” Piperato says. “Anyone can come into Gary’s office or mine and speak their mind. Of course, we have line leaders, supervisors and managers who keep our company on track, but everyone has a voice here.”
Combined, the management team has more than 150 years of industry experience, but they work closely with the newest employees and the long-time associates. To further illustrate the point, Eaton says there is no assigned parking, except one slot for the USDA inspector. Beyond that, parking is on a first-come, first-served basis.
J&G Foods counts heavily on proven vendors who provide needed products and services on a regular basis. Many are long standing, such as Chemetall for plant sanitation, Quik Stik – Xgraphix for label stock and Abel Womack for material handling equipment.
“It’s been exhilarating to grow this business,” Piperato reflects. “We’ve done it through the help of great employees, suppliers and vendors, and by sticking to our core values: integrity, creativity and quality.”