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Ranchers Lamb of Texas Has Success
Marketing Case-Ready Products

By Ross McSwain, Special Correspondent

A year ago, Ranchers Lamb of Texas, Inc., was able to get a contract with H.E.B. Food Stores of San Antonio, Texas, to be the sole supplier of lamb to all its 300 retail outlets. In addition, Ranchers Lamb, which has been in existence for five years, has since contracted to supply case-ready lamb to 170 Albertson Stores, a number of Fiesta Stores and is negotiating contracts with Brookshire Stores and Kroger Inc.

Wayne Snyder, president and general manager of Ranchers Lamb, believes the success in marketing product is a result of getting the loan to finance the new fabrication plant that opened in January 2001. Now plans are in the making for another expansion to provide more case-ready product as demand grows with new contracts.The H.E.B. contract this year helped to increase sales by 30 percent, he said.

"When we first opened, it was strictly a carcass plant," said Justin Jonas, sales manager. "We were at the mercy of a few breakers in the U.S. who literally set the price. Now we can compete with them."

The fabrication plant, including the 10,000 square-foot building, coolers, freezers, loading dock and fabrication equipment, was funded by a loan from the National Livestock Producers Association and a grant from the San Angelo Development Corporation. The original investment for the slaughter plant amounted to nearly $4 million. With later expansions, the plant is now valued at $7.5 to $8 million. The next expanion, including a 30,000 square-foot building, will cost about $3 million, Snyder said.

In order to be more efficient in delivering product to grocery chain distribution centers, Ranchers Lamb has just purchased four refrigerated trailers and will begin hauling case-ready lamb direct rather than having to contract with private trucking firms.

"We will have our own dispatchers, drivers, mechanics and others to keep the trucks and trailers in good condition and rolling on schedule," Jonas said. "It will help sales, as well as help extent product shelf-life."

"We are doing everything we can to enhance the product, from advertising to finding ways to extend shelf life," Snyder said. The best way to maximize shelf life of the meat product is to keep it at temperatures of 34 degrees or less. The plant’s coolers are kept at 28-30 degrees. Generally, the shelf life of a prepackaged, pre-priced cut of lamb is 10 to 12 days.
At present, Ranchers Lamb is processing 4,000 to 5,000 lambs and from 700 to 2,000 goats per week. The long drought in Texas and New Mexico has reduced the number of lambs being raised, thus the plant is getting lambs from California, the Dakotas, and from Kansas.

"There has been a strong market for the pelts all year long," Jonas said. He sells the pelts each Monday, which have been graded by Custom Skins of San Angelo. Most of the pelts go to Russia for use in the clothing and leather trade.

In recent years, the demand for goat meat his shown a big increase among the Muslim population in the United States. Snyder said the plant has not focused its goat meat sales toward any ethnic group. However, a large percentage goes to Mexico and the Florida island trade.

Snyder said he would like to see a research project started to make goat meat more tender. Some work has been done in cooperation with the Texas Agriculture Extension Service. He believes there would be an expanded market for goat meat if it could be naturally tenderized and made more tasty.

Recently, Ranchers Lamb made a very favorable presentation to the Southwest Restaurant Association’s Food Service Expo in Houston where more than 5,000 people sampled the firm’s lamb meatballs, Snyder said. Snyder and other company officials were especially pleased to hear the comments from many in the industry who said "they were surprised at how mild the American lamb was." A San Angelo restaurant-catering service operator named Kenny Blanek helped prepare and serve the product for the Houston event.

"It was very successful," said Snyder. "We will be doing it again next year."

The company also has worked out an arrangement with Executive Chef Scott Cohen of a San Antonio hotel chain to create special recipes that will be featured in forthcoming full-color advertising that will be in food service publications. The first will feature pecan-crusted rack of lamb.

Snyder says Ranchers Lamb of Texas is in a position to deliver its products to a customer’s warehouse or distributing center much quicker than processors of imported lamb.He points out that it takes weeks for Australia and New Zealand competitors to deliver their products to American consumers.

"We can process and fill an order within days," he said.

Ranchers Lamb of Texas is a unique operation. Opened in 1997 near San Angelo, the lamb processing facility is the first rancher-owned plant of its kind. The firm was started by a group of some 300 West Texas investors, including ranchers and their friends and fellow businessmen.

The facility has more than 100 employes and expects to hire more in the coming weeks. The newest expansion, still a year or more away,. will add another 30 to 50 workers to the payroll.

"We are excited about our growth potential," Snyder said.

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Ross McSwain lives in San Angelo, Texas. He has been a journalist for the past 40 years and was a farm and ranch editor for 25 of those years. Throughout his career he has worked very closely with the sheep and goat industry in the San Angelo area.


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