In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, Ben Rosenthal and Ashli Rosenthal Blumenfeld, co-presidents of Standard Meat Co. (and brother and sister) discuss the 87-year-old company’s June 7 acquisition of Syracuse Sausage.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For an unabridged version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.
Bob Francis: I’m here talking with Ashli and Ben of Standard Meat Company. Why don’t you tell the audience who you are and your positions in the company?
Ashli Blumenfeld: I’m Ashli Blumenfeld and I’m the co-president at Standard Meat Company.
Ben Rosenthal: I’m Ben Rosenthal and I’m the CEO and co-president at Standard Meat Company.
Francis: And for those people who didn’t read our earlier report about the company, why don’t you tell us a little bit about Standard Meat Company?
Blumenfeld: Ben and I are part of the fourth generation of our family-owned business. We’re based here in Fort Worth. We were founded in 1935 by our great-grandfather, and we are incredibly honored to now have the opportunity to run this business as co-presidents. We produce proteins with what we like to say, “a handmade touch,” but at scale for the food service and meal kit industries.
Francis: Who are some of the customers we might know for your products?
Blumenfeld: We have a great relationship with HelloFresh and Blue Apron on the meal kit side, and we do quite a bit of business in casual dining with both Outback Steakhouse and Applebee’s among several other customers.
Francis: How many employees does Standard have?
Rosenthal: We have just over a thousand employees.
Francis: That’s across how many locations?
Rosenthal: We have four locations today.
Francis: Tell me a little about how you first became involved with Syracuse Sausage.
Rosenthal: We actually partnered with two of the founders, Bobby and Anthony Musacchio. Syracuse was a family business also. It started in the early 1980s, and Bobby and Anthony were looking for a partner to help them grow the business and take it to the next level. And so in 2012, their brother left to pursue other interests, and we got involved with them and just loved their family-founded culture, loved their products. And we went ahead and made an investment in the business.
Francis: Tell me a little bit about their product line.
Blumenfeld: They are known for their specialty sausages and meatballs, and that’s a variety of different flavors anywhere from jalapeno cheese or a cracked black pepper flavor to your classic, mild or hot Italian. And all of the products that we do at both Standard Meat and Syracuse are custom-oriented. It’s not your average off-the-shelf type of formulas. It’s recipes that taste like they came out of a restaurant or a home-cooked meal, if you will.
Francis: When and why did you all decide to acquire Syracuse?
Blumenfeld: We started talking with Bobby and Anthony about a year ago. They were contemplating retirement, trying to decide what they wanted to do next. And since Ben and I have both sat on their executive board since we made our investment 10 years ago, we are very familiar with the business, very familiar with the culture and the employees. And we’ve always seen Syracuse as a synergistic company for Standard Meat. There’s a number of products that we’ll take some of our residual materials from Standard Meat and take them over to Syracuse to turn into sausage products, which allows us to be a bit more all consuming and still put out some great quality products. It just made sense in the end.
Francis: You mentioned they were talking about retirement. So you brought in someone to run Syracuse Sausage. Can you tell me about him?
Rosenthal: Sure. We did. We brought in a guy named Chris Horan, who is an industry veteran. We actually spent a number of years with him when we had a company called CTI Foods about 10 years ago and had great experience working with him. And his most recent job was running a business called Classic Foods, which is also local. And so he was excited about the opportunity. We were really excited about working with Chris again. It was a good fit.
Francis: One of the things you all are known for, and you mentioned earlier, you work with HelloFresh and Blue Apron, I think is about staying innovative in the industry. Can you talk a little bit about some of the innovations you guys have worked on?
Rosenthal: We absolutely try to be innovative. And, as you said, that can vary from just being innovative in terms of which customers we think are leading edge customers. And when we first partnered with Blue Apron and HelloFresh, it really was leading edge. We were in the meal kit space before, I think, a lot of people knew what a meal kit was. And so we’re always out there trying to identify those types of customers and see where the world is headed.
We also innovate from a technology standpoint. As an example, in the last two years, we’ve added two new cooking platforms that we’re really excited about. One of which we know is the only platform of its kind in the United States. It’s a technology out of Germany that is a searing technology that we’re really in love with, and it’s very innovative. On the other side, we’ve got a sous vide cooking platform that we’ve put our own twist on, and we’ve been able to create some really, really creative products. In fact, we just did a sous vide burger item for a large QSR (quick service restaurant), which is a quick service chain in the country that’s done really well, that was just rolled out over the last couple of weeks. We’re always looking for opportunities like that.
Francis: People may be going out and ordering something and not even know it’s a Standard Meat product, and yet they might be buying it on a daily basis or something?
Blumenfeld: We really like to think of ourselves as a brand behind the brand. It’s very rare that you’ll ever see a Standard Meat mention or a Syracuse mention out there in the final consumer world. It’s about producing great products that fit what our customers need them to. If it’s the restaurant that’s looking for a convenient way of getting super high quality out in front of the customer in a very quick convenient manner, or for the home chef looking to save time by purchasing a meal kit plan, all of our products are simple and easy to use.
Francis: I believe you’ve gotten involved in the plant-based space as well?
Blumenfeld: You know, we wanted to stay on top of the trend. Standard Meat has not actually produced any plant-based items as of now. We invested in a startup company that’s creating a really unique product – it somewhat represents a chicken piece and it feels almost as if it’s a whole muscle chicken piece, but it’s made out of pea protein. So we’ve partnered with the founders of that group, but we aren’t producing any actual product at Standard Meat today. That doesn’t mean we’re not playing around with it in our R&D kitchen, but we like to think we’re a protein company. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to be only married to animal proteins, right?
Francis: Let’s talk a little bit about the economic conditions out there. I’d say two of the big issues are supply chain and inflationary pressures. So are you all seeing anything there?
Rosenthal: We’re certainly seeing what everybody’s seeing, unfortunately. It’s a tough environment out there with high prices, and we’re a buyer like anybody else. And then, of course, we’re processing it and then working on how to make it economical, or as economical as possible, for our customers. Along those lines, we do think that we’ve managed through it pretty well. We’ve got some really, really good partnerships on our supply side that help us. So we’ve worked hard, especially coming into this year to try to lock up some good fixed pricing, fixed-price contracts that we could then pass on to our customers and help at least avoid some of the volatility that we’re faced with this year. And look, it’s going to continue to be a challenging environment going into next year, and we’re just doing all we can to manage prices on our end as best we can.
Francis: What are you hearing from customers? What’s your strategy there?
Rosenthal: We end up a lot of times with our customers – given the volumes and the predictability of the volumes for some of our customers – we end up a lot of times having fixed pricing for a whole year. And so in those cases we are already, I mean, it’s June 14 and we’re already having conversations with customers talking about 2023. In fact, we had a customer in town today that we’re doing that. And that’s really the trick, we believe, to really set ourselves up for success is to start having those conversations early and often.
Francis: I’ve certainly heard from some companies that are seeing quarterly increases, which can be pretty tough. Anything else you want to talk about?
Blumenfeld: I mean, we could mention we’re doing something incredibly innovative that we haven’t mentioned yet. We’ve recently gone into the ice business, in which we’re producing ice packs for the meal kit industry. We’ve taken all of our past years in the soup business and tried to apply some of that technology to create what we’re calling “ice on demand.” And it’s been a lot of fun. It’s still in the early stages of launch and we’re hopeful that it’s going to be a really unique platform for us.
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.