Food products company evolves to meet changing market

This piece is presented by the Prairie Family Business Association.

Cloverdale Foods in Mandan, N.D., has been owned and operated by the same family for more than 100 years.

But just because it’s the same family doesn’t mean it has always been the same business.

Adaptability has been key for the meat processing and packaging company, said president and CEO Scott Russell, and as the food industry changes, so does Cloverdale.

 

The company was founded by Hoy Russell in 1915. At the time, it was called Mandan Creamery and specialized in butter and dairy products.

Hoy Russell

Today, neither product is part of Cloverdale’s business model.

Over the years and as each new generation has taken the helm of the family business, Cloverdale has learned how to stay relevant.

It has evolved into its current model, which is focused on its meat products, especially bacon, and on growing a strong brand among retailers in the Midwest.

“We get better if we listen to the market,” Scott said. “We get the opportunity to be better.”

From butter to bacon

More than 40 years after founding the dairy, Hoy Russell introduced Cloverdale’s first line of premium-grade meat products — Cloverdale Tangy Summer Sausage — in 1958.

Just over a decade later, the dairy side of the company was pushed out of business by larger dairy corporations, and Cloverdale responded by diversifying the meat side of the industry to include food service distribution and trucking services.

Over the next several decades, Cloverdale saw many more changes.

The company passed down another generation when Scott and his brother T.J. Russell took leadership positions in the late ’90s and early 2000s.

Scott Russell

Cloverdale entered and later exited the pork slaughtering business, expanded sales and geographic reach, and began developing products with a stronger focus on health.

For some time, Cloverdale has had a broad geographic reach extending to the West Coast, but in recent years, it has concentrated its focus on the Midwest and increased focus on its expertise as a “bacon company.”

“I think if Hoy could transform himself down here, he’d say, ‘How did you guys get from butter to bacon?’ ” Scott said.

All of these recent changes have been part of an effort to best position Cloverdale in the marketplace.

“In order for us to stay relevant … we have to decide what are we truly going to be good at doing,” Scott said.

Focus on all families

Through all of the changes, Cloverdale has been a family business, but it has never been just about the Russells.

“Yes, we are a family, but we’re also responsible for a lot of other families,” T.J. said.

Cloverdale employs about 320 people in Mandan. Those are people whose livelihoods are at stake whenever the Russell family makes decisions about the business, he added.

He recognizes Cloverdale’s position as an employer in the town of more than 20,000 people.

“It’s the employer where a lot of people end up,” T.J. said. “And we end up being that solid employer that’s going to be around for a long time.”

Growing, transitioning and maintaining family businesses across generations speaks to the core of Cloverdale’s decision to join the Prairie Family Business Association.

The company is new to association, which is an outreach program of the Beacom School of Business at the University of South Dakota. Membership already has been helpful in guiding new thoughts for succession planning, T.J. said.

He also plans to attend an upcoming North Dakota Family Business forum in Bismarck hosted by Prairie Family Business, where transitioning to the next generation will be a prominent theme among the speakers. For more information and to register, click here.

“We’re so glad to have Cloverdale as part of our association and joining with other like-minded family businesses in North Dakota and from the surrounding region,” said Stephanie Larscheid, executive director of the Prairie Family Business Association. “They’re a terrific example of diversifying their business model to adjust to changing markets, and we look forward to being an additional resource for them for years to come.”

More change to come

It’s tough to predict what the next generation will mean for the evolving food industry.

But rest assured Cloverdale will have a seat at the table.

The company is in the process of researching opportunities to enter the snack industry, Scott said, especially as midday snacking becomes more popular.

Research shows consumers are increasingly turning to protein as a snack, a trend that should fit nicely into a meat-processing business, he added.

As the next generation of Cloverdale employees join the ranks, they’ll be tasked with figuring out how to leverage those opportunities for future growth, but that’s nothing new for the Russell family.

“About every generation, its business model has been somewhat different,” Scott said. “But we’re still here.”

The Prairie Family Business Association is an outreach program of the USD Beacom School of Business.

Food products company evolves to meet changing market

From butter to bacon, this family-owned food products company knows how to adapt to changing markets.

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