Q&A DOUG CLEMENS

HIS FAM­ILY-OWNED 123-YEAR-OLD COM­PANY KICK-STARTED A NEW PORK PACK­ING REV­O­LU­TION.

Successful Farming - - CONTENTS - By Betsy Freese, Ex­ec­u­tive Ed­i­tor

Fam­ily-owned 123-year-old com­pany kick­started a new pork pack­ing rev­o­lu­tion.

Doug Clemens’ great-grand­fa­ther was a Penn­syl­va­nia hog farmer who ex­panded into pork pack­ing in a big way. To­day, Clemens Food Group has two 10,000-head-a-day hog pro­cess­ing plants, one in Hat­field, Penn­syl­va­nia, and a new plant in Cold­wa­ter, Michi­gan. About 300 mem­bers of the Clemens fam­ily are share­hold­ers in the six­gen­er­a­tion com­pany. The core val­ues set forth by John C. Clemens in 1895 – ethics, in­tegrity, and ste­ward­ship – re­main deeply rooted in the com­pany to­day.

SF: In 2014, you were ap­proached by a group of Michi­gan hog pro­duc­ers about part­ner­ing on a new plant. Why Clemens?

DC: They said it was be­cause of our rep­u­ta­tion in the in­dus­try. In 1998 when the hog mar­ket dropped to sin­gle dig­its, we put in a floor. We knew that with­out pro­duc­ers, we didn’t ex­ist. Our val­ues and their val­ues aligned. We com­pete against com­pa­nies that are Chi­ne­se­and Brazil­ian-owned. We are not look­ing to spin this com­pany in three years.

SF: The Cold­wa­ter plant launched a wave of new pork pro­cess­ing con­struc­tion.

DC: I keep won­der­ing, what in the world did we start? The Cold­wa­ter plant was the first time we could lay out some­thing be­gin­ning to end and be­come ex­tremely ef­fi­cient. Oth­ers de­cided to do the same thing for that rea­son. We spent two years build­ing the plant and opened Septem­ber 5, 2017 – on time and on bud­get.

SF: How did you make the pro­ducer part­ner­ship work?

DC: It’s a jour­ney that be­gins with open, hon­est di­a­logue and speak­ing the truth even when the truth hurts. We are still learn­ing. Don’t think for one sec­ond that we have it all fig­ured out. We don’t.

SF: Can ad­di­tional pork pro­duc­ers get in­volved?

DC: Yes, es­pe­cially as we work to­ward the next shift. They have to have the right val­ues and right vi­sion for the fu­ture.

SF: When will you dou­ble shift the plant?

DC: That will be driven by the avail­abil­ity of hog sup­ply, the avail­abil­ity of peo­ple, and de­mand. I would say within the next three to five years, not sooner.

SF: Clemens has 66,330 sows to­day. Why did you get into hog pro­duc­tion?

DC: We never had the wish, the want, or the de­sire to get into hog pro­duc­tion. We did it out of ne­ces­sity. The hog sup­ply started to go down. If we wanted to re­main sus­tain­able for gen­er­a­tions to come, we had to be re­spon­si­ble for our own sup­ply.

SF: What big is­sue are you deal­ing with to­day?

DC:

The tar­iff sit­u­a­tion with our ex­port part­ners, specif­i­cally China and Mex­ico. Al­most 30% of the pork pro­duced in the U.S. is ex­ported to other places in the world, so it has had a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on our earn­ings. There are parts and pieces of the pig that Amer­i­cans don’t want to con­sume. We have to max­i­mize ev­ery sin­gle part of that pig and try to gen­er­ate some value from it. It’s a chal­lenge.

SF: What is the so­lu­tion?

DC: Per­se­ver­ance, pa­tience, and hope that those who have the abil­ity will make these trade deals hap­pen. I do not be­lieve that bailouts or hand­outs are a longterm so­lu­tion.

SF: What prod­ucts are hot?

DC: Ba­con. It’s the eas­i­est thing to sell. The belly used to be the hard­est part of the pig to get rid of. We can’t get rid of loins now.

SF: Did pigs get too lean?

DC: No doubt about it. There was in­con­sis­tency in the qual­ity of hogs, from way fat to way lean to ev­ery­thing in be­tween, so we started in­cen­tiviz­ing to­ward lean. We re­cently launched a line we call Pre­mium Re­serve. We de­vel­oped a way to rein­tro­duce mar­bling back into the loin prod­uct by us­ing fat trim­mings. It’s got taste, it’s easy to cut, and you can’t over­cook it.

SF: What would you like to tell farm­ers?

DC:

Em­brace change, whether you like it or not. Take the open-pen ges­ta­tion is­sue, for ex­am­ple. We started ex­per­i­ment­ing with that long be­fore it was men­tioned by any con­sumer group. We are al­ways chal­leng­ing our­selves and an­tic­i­pat­ing changes that may be com­ing down the road from our cus­tomers.

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