2008 Food Processor of the Year: Hormel Foods

With layoffs and bankruptcy filings hitting even the food industry, Hormel continues its diet of process innovation, nurtured new products and strategic acquisitions.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

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Hormel at a Glance
  • Headquarters: Austin, Minn.
  • Facilities: 41 in the U.S., two in China and joint ventures in the Philippines, Mexico and Australia
  • Employees: 19,000 worldwide
  • Wholly owned subsidiaries: Century Foods, Dan’s Prize Inc., Diamond Crystal, Farmer John, Hormel Foods International Corp., Jennie-O Turkey Store, Lloyd’s
  • Brands: Black Label, Buffalo, Burke, Carapelli, Chi-Chi's, Chilimaster, Compleats, Cure 81, Curemaster, Dan's Prize, Di Lusso, Dinty Moore, Dona Maria, Dubuque, El Torito, Farmer John, Herb-Ox, Herdez, Homeland, Hormel,House of Tsang, Jennie-O Turkey Store, Kid's Kitchen, Little Sizzlers, Lloyd’s, Manny’s, Marrakesh Express, Mary Kitchen, Natural Choice, Not-So-Sloppy-Joe, Old Smokehouse, Patak’s, Peloponnese, Quick Meal, Rosa Grande, Sandwich Maker, SPAM, Stagg, Valley Fresh, Wranglers

What kind of company is this? The chairman/CEO used to be the corporate attorney, then did some marketing and later was treasurer. The communications vice president was a product manager. The vice president of research and development started in the quality control department and later worked in packaging. One of the operations vice presidents was head of turkey sales and marketing. Earlier this month, the president of the turkey group switched jobs with the vice president of the specialty foods group.

What kind of company is Hormel Foods Corp.? A very cross-functional and long tenured one.

“Our company long has prided itself on being a balance of tradition and innovation,” says Jeffrey Ettinger, president and chief executive officer since 2005 and also chairman of the board since 2006 of this $6.75 billion company. Especially in the current economy, he says he’s thankful for the stability of Hormel's "balanced model."

“The flipside is the culture of innovation, started by our founder George Hormel and carried on by his son Jay, which resulted in the creation of products that we are still enjoying to this day,” Ettinger continues. “We’ve had good success with recent production introductions and we’re working on others.”

Hormel has a long and storied history dating back to 1891 and brands, such as Hormel, Dinty Moore and SPAM, that have been ingrained in the minds of generations of consumers.

Lest you think the company’s whole portfolio is dated, Hormel in the past four years has launched Jennie-O Turkey Store Oven Ready turkey, Hormel Natural Choice deli meats and relaunched shelf-stable entrees under the Compleats name. And there are some lesser-known surprises: a specialty foods unit that makes isotonic drinks and foodservice and nutritional packets and mixes; a health products business unit that has some proprietary texture technology for people who have difficulty swallowing; a packaging team that currently has more innovations than it has opportunities on which to apply them.

There’s also an impressive amount of technology behind some of these products, enabled by an engineering team that still makes some of its own machinery. Hormel was a pioneer in shelf-stability and high-pressure pasteurization technology.  It is designing what may be the food industry's "greenest" processing plant, an $89 million facility being built in Dubuque, Iowa, which is designed to earn Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Food Processing is not the first to notice. The Austin, Minn.-based company has been recognized by Forbes magazine as one of “America’s Best Big Companies.” The American Red Cross gave Hormel its Humanitarian Award in 2005. It has received the American Meat Institute's Environmental MAPS Awards for the past three years which recognize industry excellence in environmental practices. And Hormel was named one of China’s 10 best employers – as early as 2001 and again in 2007.

Hormel Firsts

2001: First company to launch a pre-made party tray (sliced meats and cubes of cheese)

2006: The first nationally available line of natural meats (Natural Choice)

2008: First food processor to complete the Wal-Mart packaging scorecard

Despite the financial turmoil of recent months, the company announced it will pay its 322nd consecutive quarterly dividend on Feb. 15, 2009. Hormel reported a respectable profit and both volume and sales increases in its fiscal 2008, which ended Oct. 26. Four of the company’s five business units had earnings above a year ago – Jennie-O Turkey Store suffered through higher feed and fuel input costs that it was unable to offset with increased pricing.

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