- Associated Press - Monday, November 2, 2015

MANDAN, N.D. (AP) - As Cloverdale Foods Co. in Mandan marks 100 years of business, CEO TJ Russell said it has been more of the pioneer grit than ingenuity that has kept the doors open and the meat company’s packing room floor humming.

Cloverdale was founded in 1915 by Hoy Russell as Mandan Creamery. The company would get into meat in the ‘50s, starting with summer sausage. When bigger dairy corporations pushed it out of the dairy business in the ‘70s, the company diversified its meat line and added food service distribution and trucking. In 1995, Cloverdale divested its other businesses to make meat its sole focus.

“WIT” is a phrase heard often in the halls - “Whatever it takes.” Meanwhile, murals transform the offices into an Old West pioneer town, complete with saloon and hitching post, reminding employees that pioneers found ways to make a living, feed their families and survive.

“We will find a way to survive,” said Russell, looking to the company’s future. “There’s a real thirst to find a way to get the job done. … We’re more like the little engine that could.”

Mandan Mayor Arlyn VanBeek attributes Cloverdale’s success to a “great product” and “great employees” selling that product. He said the company has grown and expanded a number of times, providing jobs to the community and keeping “Mandan on the map.”

As the former manager of Central Market-Mandan, VanBeek says he experienced the service and customer satisfaction provided by Cloverdale firsthand.

The company recently updated its bacon room, where a slicer uses a laser to measure the number of strips per pound.

Russell said they may not be technological leaders in the industry like some of the larger producers, but they have started to adopt technologies sooner than they had in the past.

“To be around this long, you have to adapt,” he told the Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/1NBuRuX ).

Labeling regulations and balancing sodium reductions with taste have been the company’s latest challenges.

The company caters to a lot of health care facilities and school food service businesses.

“They’re looking for that selection,” said Russell, which keeps his research and development team hopping.

Most Mondays, Russell can be found poring over the past week’s sales numbers. He says it’s hard to have long-term goals for the company when he’s more focused on the day to day.

“I tend to spend too much time in it,” he said.

That’s where his brother, Scott, comes in - challenging him to take a three- to five-year view.

“We make a pretty good tag team,” said Russell, who characterizes the next generation of company leaders as helpful as well.

“I think this is the youngest roster of talent we’ve ever had,” said Russell, adding that the current mix of staff has provided a major driving force for the company, which recently completed a new packaging design, something that hadn’t been done since 2005.

It was not something Russell paid attention to until someone brought it to his attention. The result was a design meant to capture the company’s long heritage in a modern way.

“I’m so proud of it I had my truck wrapped in it,” he said of the design donned by his pickup.

Russell, the company’s fourth-generation leader, said he, his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather have done business with other legacy companies for years. There are many accounts that are more than 20 years old and it’s not uncommon to find ones with a 40- or 50-year business relationship - like SuperValu.

“As long as they’ve been in business, we’ve been doing business with them,” said Russell, who took the helm of Cloverdale in 1994 - something he has always wanted to do.

“As a kid, I liked working in the plant,” he said, and he recalls telling his father he was going to do whatever it took to do his father’s job one day.

Russell said his favorite part is being in the field, telling the company story to customers. When clients ask, he can tell them about almost anyone working in the plant - from packaging line to the production floor.

“Like any business, it’s a people business,” he said. “A lot of us have been together a long time.”

And that resonates with potential customers, who often ask how big is too big. There has been a movement back to smaller meat companies as many are tired of being told by larger companies they have to meet buying quotas, according to Russell.

Cloverdale is that smaller regional manufacturer that is finding a way to do it, and Russell says he hopes that can continue another 100 years.


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

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