Entering the beef processing business is full of risk. Just ask those who have tried and failed over the past 25 years. So it’s worth saluting the owners of two new beef processing companies that have started operations at almost opposite ends of North America.
I’m referring to Harmony Beef, which began operations February 27 in the former Rancher’s Beef plant at Balzac, just north of Calgary, and to the One World Beef plant that started operations November 28 last year in a plant in Brawley, Calif. (20 miles from the Mexican border).
The two plants have similar histories. Both were started by cattle producers and/or cattle feeders but ultimately foundered. Another similarity is that the two new owners bring name recognition and wide experience to their ownership. Harmony Beef is the brainchild of veteran U.S. industry executive Rich Vesta. He owns and operates it with his sons Christopher and Jeremy. Canadian Cattlemen has covered the development of the plant in great detail so I won’t repeat that.
What I would add is that Vesta, who started his meat career as a retail butcher, has a superb grasp of what makes a beef processing plant work and how to market beef successfully. He is very much a “people person” and will get the best out of those who are staffing the plant. His attention to detail means the plant will produce extremely high-quality beef for carefully targeted markets, something Cargill and JBS cannot do.
One World Beef, which is operating the plant as OWB Packers, has a remarkably similar focus. CEO and part-owner Eric Brandt is the son of prominent Imperial Valley cattle feeder Bill Brandt, one of the original eight owners of the plant. The Brandt family has fed cattle and grown crops and vegetables in the valley since the 1930s.
Eric Brandt had previously worked in the plant for four years. He started One World in 2013 as a meat sales and marketing agent. It was distributing, top-quality beef products to high-end restaurants, chefs and meat purveyors across the globe. It began by selling beef under the Brandt Beef — The True Natural brand and also imported Wagyu beef from Japan under the Kagoshima brand. It still does this.
The Brawley plant’s closure in 2015 was a crushing blow to the community, as it suffered a 28 per cent unemployment rate. So the original owners were determined to get it reopened. Eric Brandt proved to be the person to do this. Like Harmony Beef, One World spent millions of dollars to refurbish the plant.
Brandt describes One World Beef as a craft processor, making the equivalent of an estate wine. It produces “natural” beef (no use of antibiotics or implants) under the Brandt Beef — The True Natural brand and beef under the Brawley Beef brand. All cattle for both brands come from Brandt Cattle Company’s massive feedlot a few miles away. The company has two other brand programs. One is Imperial Valley Ranches beef, from cattle offered by other cattle feeders in the valley. This beef is also “natural.” Another is Baja Beef. Under this program, the company imports two sub-primal cuts from Mexico’s largest beef processor, Grupo Viz, and further processes them into cuts.
A unique aspect of the plant is that it operates as a toll processor, slaughtering and fabricating all types of cattle for producers for a fee. It will process any kind of cattle as long as they are from reputable suppliers, says Brandt. In turn, it will produce whatever customers want. That, hopefully, is a recipe for success for both plants and their brave new owners.