upping their ground game
Greater Omaha Packing CEO Henry Davis (right) and President Mike Drury.
Greater Omaha Packing expands its ground beef production capacity to almost 450,000 pounds a day, the first step in a facility expansion effort that includes a new automated packing and handling system for frozen product and new value-added packaging.
By Fred Wilkinson
OMAHA, Neb. — In response to customer needs for expanded production flexibility and value-added packaging, Greater Omaha Packing Co. Inc. launched a major expansion this fall.
“One of those needs that customers are asking for is further fabricated and increased processed items,” said Mike Drury, president of Greater Omaha Packing. “In particular, we’re expanding our ground beef capabilities.”
Aiming to fulfill those customer needs, the effort will enable Greater Omaha Packing to expand from processing around 250,000 pounds of ground beef daily to almost 450,000 pounds of ground beef a day, Drury said.
“That’s in response to our customers’ needs, taking rough-cut product and turning that into the custom grinds they’re looking for,” he said.
Complementing its efforts to meet its customers’ demand for value-added products, Greater Omaha Packing also is embracing opportunities to reduce its customers’ dependence on labor.
“Over the past several years, we have answered some of those questions with our customers in terms of cutting portioned steaks and further trimming loins down to meet their specifications so that they have less labor — or no labor — for themselves or their end-user customers,” Drury said.
In addition to increasing its ground beef production capacity, Greater Omaha Packing’s expansion includes adding an automated packaging, boxing and palletizing system for frozen product, modeled after the system it employs for fresh product.
“Ground beef certainly is a value-added item,” said Ryan Abell, vice president of operations. “Most people think of value-added as either seasonings, marinades or cut steaks, but ground beef certainly is one because these smaller operations may not have the capabilities to do ground beef.”
Greater Omaha Packing’s expanded ground beef production capacity will enable offering customers more customizable grinds using different cuts, whether it’s round, chuck or rib brisket chuck, Abell said.
“What we hear from our customers is they’re having a harder time finding qualified workers at a retail store or even a foodservice back of house,” he said. “They are asking for us to have further trimmed more steak-ready items or packaging. They want to be able to open the box or open the package and be able to put that into a meat case, or cooking and seasoning in a restaurant with minimal trim, minimal work. That allows them to have more product that they can sell versus having to trim off and figure out ‘Do I need to scrap it? Do I need to grind it?’”
In addition to increasing its ground beef production capacity, Greater Omaha Packing’s expansion includes adding an automated packaging, boxing and palletizing system for frozen product, modeled after the system it employs for fresh product, Drury said. That project broke ground in September and is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2023.
“As we’re employing new technology that takes some of the physicality out of the work we’re finding that those workers are able to up-skill and find other work that they can do here at our facility,” he said.
Kirby Childs, (left) vice president of quality assurance and technical resources, and Ryan Abell, vice president of operations, help guide Greaer Omaha Packing’s more than 1,500 workers.
Greater Omaha Packing began in 1920, when CEO Henry Davis’ grandfather, Herman Cohen, began purchasing farm-raised, corn-fed cattle upon his return from World War I. The family-owned business today processes 2,400 head of English-bred cattle a day and exports to more than 70 countries.
“We produce some of the highest quality beef in the U.S. — that’s our market,” Davis said. “There’s always demand for high-quality American beef around the world.”
Given its location, Greater Omaha Packing finds itself well situated for accessing quality cattle.
“What we thrive on is high-quality cattle,” Davis said. “We get about 90% of our cattle within a 200-mile radius of Omaha. Nebraska has more premium cattle on feed than any other state, and Iowa has more feed corn than any other state, so we’re right in the middle of this environment that generates very high-quality cattle.”
Greater Omaha Packing has strong relationships with numerous small to medium-sized feeders that understand the company is willing to pay more if they feed the cattle a few more weeks to generate more USDA Prime beef, Davis said. The company markets meat under its Greater Omaha Angus and Greater Omaha Hereford branded programs.
“Our cattle are young, which makes them more tender,” he said. “And because we have them fed out longer, they have higher quality.”
Greater Omaha Packing’s beef undergoes a two-day chill, which adds to the initial process of aging and tenderizing.
“Two days aging and the chill that we have makes a big difference in the quality of the end product,” Davis said.
ADDING VALUE VIA PACKAGING
Adding value at Greater Omaha Packing doesn’t just mean for the beef product itself, but also offering packaging options to enhance customer and end-user value as well. Part of the company’s expansion for its value-added capacity is increasing use of skin packs.
“It really makes that meat presentation very eye appealing,” Abell said.
“We worked with our third-party supplier as well to make sure that they are sustainable,” said Kirby Childs, vice president of quality assurance and technical resources.
The expansion efforts also will add printing on demand to allow retailers further display-ready finished product capabilities, Drury said.
Greater Omaha Packing’s packaging for ground beef includes 1-, 3-, 5- and 10-pound chubs to meet various retail and foodservice customer portioning preferences, Abell said.
Investing in people
Greater Omaha Packing’s workforce is a diverse, speaking more than 15 languages and representing 32 nations. Staffers total more than 1,500 people across the company and its affiliated divisions, which include:
- Greater Omaha Express (a trucking company)
- Trex Corp. (a global export company based in California)
- High Country Meats (a wholesale meat distribution company based in Colorado)
- Progressive Protein LLC (further processor of bones and fat).
Expanding the value-added services Greater Omaha Packing can offer customers includes packing in skin packs.
Responding to customer demands for ground beef products, Greater Omaha Packing has nearly doubled its capacity for grinds.
“People here are the foundation of our success, and because of that we are really aggressive out there in the market when it comes to trying to get the best people to come and work for us,” said Mohsine Gdid, vice president of human resources. “Our wages are some of the highest wages when it comes to our industry.”
In addition to medical, dental and vision insurance, Greater Omaha Packing’s employee benefits also include tuition reimbursement, day care assistance and ongoing training programs.
“We offer some comprehensive benefits programs that take care of our employees and also their dependents, such as education reimbursement for them and their dependents through a local partnership with some colleges,” he said.
Greater Omaha Packing’s employee recruitment efforts extend beyond the Omaha metro area.
“We also have a lot of offerings to encourage people from surrounding states — and really anywhere in the United States — to come and join us,” Gdid said, adding that employee referrals of family members or friends play a key role in finding the company’s workers.
“We make sure that every single person that works for us — it doesn’t matter where they come from — has a voice,” he said, citing the company-provided childcare benefit that was the result of employee input.
Prioritizing employee fulfillment extends to Greater Omaha Packing’s management techniques as well, and Abell said his tenure on Greater Omaha Packing’s sales desk before moving to the company’s operational side helps him communicate to the staff about how their roles all impact customers.
“That knowledge of the customer, that knowledge of the product and the business as a whole has helped me explain things to our employees in the operations role, the maintenance role and even quality assurance roles,” he said.