Greeley meatpacker JBS eyes bigger role in consumer beef markets

JBS is working hard to repeal Country of Origin labeling (COOL) so they can bring meat in from the cheapest places on the globe. Kansas Senator Pat Roberts in in their pocket. Senator Stabenow is misguided.

Mike C.

Greeley meatpacker JBS eyes bigger role in consumer beef markets

Beef processing could become more consumer-oriented, company officials say

By Emilie Rusch
The Denver Post

Posted: 06/24/2015 12:01:00 AM MDT2 Comments | Updated: a day ago

Bill Rupp, president of JBS USA Beef, points out an identification tag on a cattle carcass in the sales cooler at the company in Greeley on Tuesday. The cooler stages cattle carcasses on hooks before they’re cut up and packaged. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)

GREELEY — JBS USA is one of the largest beef processors in the nation, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at the Styrofoam trays in the grocery store.

Most of the company’s sales are business-to-business, meaning grocers and restaurants brand the product, not JBS, said Bill Rupp, president and chief operating officer of JBS USA Beef, the unit responsible for all beef production.

That, however, could change, leaders of the Greeley-based company said Tuesday during an unprecedented media tour of its corporate headquarters, its Greeley beef-processing plant and its Kuner Feedlot, near Kersey.

The future of the beef industry, Rupp said, will include more and more portioning of cuts at its primary packing facilities, creating a "huge" opportunity for JBS to make a name for itself among consumers.

"You will see that evolution toward more packaged goods. And as you create that, you create the ability to brand," Rupp said. "Today, with the form we package in, the first thing the retailer does is tear our package off because they have to cut it into smaller pieces."

The evolution of beef from commodity to brand name could mean significant investments in JBS "mega plants" such as those in Greeley and Grand Island, Neb., Rupp said.

"We’ll probably have to go build, I don’t know, a 60,000-square-foot refrigerated facility and the storage capabilities on top of that. It will be a significant acquisition," Rupp said. "I believe it will happen. The question is when is the right time to do it."

Company leaders also acknowledged that the changing marketplace will require more transparency on behalf of the traditionally opaque corporation.

"In today’s society, the consumer wants to know more and more where their food comes from," said Cameron Bruett, head of corporate affairs and sustainability for JBS USA. "Food companies are slowly adopting toward that, but I think we need to do a better job."

JBS’ parent company, Brazilian meat processing giant JBS S.A., is the largest global producer of beef and lamb, as well as the largest cattle feeder, leather processor and chicken producer.

JBS USA, which oversees operations in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Australia, has been based in Greeley since 2007, when it acquired Swift & Company.

Nolan Stone, general manager of JBS USA’s Kuner Feedlot, near Kersey, looks over some feed for beef cattle on Tuesday. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)

On Tuesday, the Greeley beef plant was a flurry of knives, machinery and beef carcasses as hundreds of employees fabricated everything from cheek meat to tenderloin.

The 850,000-square-foot plant can process up to 5,600 head of cattle a day and employs 3,100 people, according to plant officials.

Companywide, a third-party consultant is examining safety procedures and how they are imparted to employees, Bruett said.

A worker died last year at the Greeley plant in a conveyer accident, resulting in a $45,500 fine by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. JBS officials Tuesday said they were still in talks with OSHA about the incident.

Andre Nogueira, CEO of JBS USA, said that although the company faces challenges, there are a lot of misconceptions out there.

"We need to show more of what we do here," Nogueira said. "We’re extremely proud about the type of company we are, about the type of business we are."

Emilie Rusch: 303-954-2457, or emilierusch