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Consumer’s Packing Company

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Consumer’s Packing succeeds with both old-school hand-cutting and new technology.

Consumer’s Packing Company is a mix of hand cut and high technology. “We operate old school but also state of the art at the same time,” Chief Brand Officer Caroline Schutz says.

Butchers at Consumer’s Packing cut most steaks by hand, which is something of an art requiring both butcher knowledge and knife skills. The company is known for its wet age steaks.

But Consumer’s Packing also takes advantage of technology. Three years ago, it spent invested in a Marel laser cutter from Germany. With boneless meat, the Marel can cut many steaks in a minute. “That helps us on volume accounts,” Schutz says. “At a certain price point, it saves customers money on labor.”

The company uses Cyrovac film to prolong the life of steaks being shipped, a 6,000-square-foot dry age room that is automatically monitored for humidity and temperature and a state of the art refrigeration units that doesn’t blow cold air on people.

For the last decade, Consumer’s Packing has used Canopy inventory system, which Schutz says allows the company to track when the cow came to the farm to what it was fed to the profit on its sale.

“We are always updating something and redoing something to advance ourselves,” Schutz says. 

Consumer’s Packing Company is a meat processer and distributor located just west of Chicago. It is one of the top prime beef suppliers in the United States, with most of its cattle being grass raised and corn finished, which makes for high marbling. The company gets most of its cattle from Illinois and deliver across the country, largely to restaurant chains such as Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab, Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants and Palm Restaurant Group. Consumer’s Packing also has food service companies and a few hotels and casinos among its customers.

The Schutz family has deep roots in the meat business. Schutz’s grandfather worked in the Chicago stockyards for one of the largest corn-fed beef manufacturers of the time. “He was in it from his teens until the day he died,” Schutz says.

Her father Bill worked at Allen Brothers Meat for 15 years until 1990, when he had the opportunity to purchase Consumer’s Packing Company. Caroline joined the company full time in 2011.

Proactive Service

Larger food companies have been purchasing smaller family owned and operated custom cutting companies over the last five years, which has led to an increase in competition, Schutz says. Consumer’s Packing competes in a couple important ways.

One way is customer service. The company promises a quick reply and flexibility whether a customer has a menu development idea or wants to adjust their specification or is missing a truck delivery.  

Consumer’s Packing also looks out for its customers. Currently, for example, there is a shortage of prime beef due to an extremely wet spring in the Midwest. “The cattle died or the grading isn’t as high,” Schutz says. “You know the prices will be astronomical for us and the customers.”

In an era of low unemployment, Consumer’s Packing has very low turnover. Most of its employees have worked there at least 15 years, Schutz says, and a few 35 years to almost 50. “They have the knowledge of the market, the cuts and sourcing the best product,” she says. “Everyone knows the ins and outs of Consumer’s very well.”

The plant workers are unionized and receive competitive pay and benefits. Hours are stable and management is flexible when employees want to take off time for family matters. Many long time employees have family members who also work for the company.

Over the years, Schutz has seen changes in the meat industry. She is concerned that the industry is losing people with butcher skills. “The knife skills and precise detailing in cutting a steak, I think it’s getting lost,” she says. “The focus has been more on being competitive than paying attention to the quality of the steak.”

With most of its employees in their 50s, Consumer’s Packing is starting to bring in younger employees who are more in tune with younger chefs. “I was at Chicago Gourmet last weekend,” Schutz says. “The chefs want to know everything about the product. They want you to be there friend. They are much more detail focused. We are going to have to learn to keep the old school traditions but also go with the millennial flow and still sell meat but without the sales pitch side of it.”

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