By Jeanine Moyer for AgInnovation Ontario
Harriston Packing Company Ltd. is a testament to the old adage that the customer is always right.
As the small town family business celebrates 50 years this year, second generation co-owner Mark Oelschlagel says listening to his customers has been the key to growth, especially in recent years.
Over the past decade, local food trends and changing customer buying habits have shaped a new direction for the meat processing and retail company.
Today, the family business located in Harriston, Ont. is stronger than ever. Oelschlagel continues adjusting the company business model to keep up with his customers, and his results are paying off.
“Direct-to-customer wholesale and retail sales have grown six times in the past ten years,” says Oelschlagel, who is also seeing the trend extend to custom processing for farmers as farm gate sales increase.
“Customer attitudes towards food have really changed,” he says. “They’ve become more knowledge based, wanting to know where the meat comes from, how it was raised and what it was fed.”
Oelschlagel is only too happy to oblige his engaged customers, continuing with the family tradition of sourcing meat from local farmers and taking the time to explain product processing and answer customer questions.
New products, like ready-to-eat meats and snack foods, are added to the retail line up based on customer feedback and suggestions.
He has also harnessed the local food preference to develop one of Harriston Packing’s largest growth areas: fundraising.
“One of our biggest surprises has been seasonal boxed meat fundraisers with local schools and community groups. It demonstrates our customer support for the community and our products,” he says.
Business will continue to change for Harriston Packing. Oelschlagel is confident that with his brother and co-owner Robert, and sister Barb alongside running the family business, they will keep pace with their customers.
Plans are already underway for a secondary processing facility in nearby Alma, Ont.
The new facility will help the company increase production volume and expand their product line up to meet retail customer requests and offer more processing options to their custom processing clients.
Harriston Packing received support from Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative, for upgrading equipment and food safety systems in the new facility.
New technologies and meat processing equipment are making it easier for the company to produce specialty products on a smaller scale and increase product consistency.
“We’re setting up for new growth,” says Oelschlagel, who also recently updated the company’s logo and launched a new website, www.harristonpacking.