Jensen Meat Company

The Missing Link in the Ground Beef Industry
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
James Logan

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates Americans consumed more than 28 billion pounds of beef in 2012, making the industry worth well over $80 billion and the competition between producers even more fierce. Such stiff competition has caused a serious rift in the industry. To survive, producers have cut product costs by adding cheaper fillers to beef and hiding details about operations and products behind closed doors.

“There’s a sense of honesty and transparency missing in the beef industry today and that’s where Jensen Meat Company [Jensen] comes in,” explains Abel Olivera, COO of San Diego-based Jensen. “Our innovative approach and transparency in costs up front is leading to a long overdue paradigm shift in the ground beef industry.”

Jensen’s roots trace back to 1958 with founder Reggie Jensen. For many decades, the company has been a leading processor of quality ground beef products for restaurant, retail and food service distribution customers.

“Jensen started as a meat purveyor processing lamb, veal, beef, pork and fish, packing them to be used as entrees in restaurants throughout San Diego County,” recalls Olivera. “In 1980 Jensen turned into more of a restaurant supply company, focusing on ground beef and individual quick frozen [IQF] patties. That’s what we do now. We buy beef and sell fresh and IQF ground beef products in patties or bulk form.”

Bridging the Gap

While Jensen has been in the meat industry for more than half a century, it wasn’t until 2011 that the company started to develop a different approach to the same old industry problems. “Second-generation Bob Jensen got out of the business in 2011 and sold to a couple of brothers, Jeff and Gregg Hamann,” recounts Olivera. “Since then we have been focusing on adding value to our brand and also being closer to our customers. We have taken a different approach. It used to be just one salesperson working with a customer, now we’ve opened up access to the whole team, from customer service to quality control, sales people to operations and logistics; the whole scope.”

According to Olivera, Jensen has also made transparency a priority. “We see customers not just as customers, but as partners,” he compares. “We make sure they understand our business model and see our true costs. We lay it out; we’re in business to make a profit, here’s our true costs and here’s what we’re looking to make and customers have responded extremely well to that. They have been much more loyal and on board in response.”

And this goes for small-scale retailers all the way up to the biggest names in the business. “We’re in a range of market segments throughout the West Coast and Midwest,” continues Olivera.

In order to support nationwide retailers and distributors Jensen has undergone significant expansion. “We have recently built a new facility,” reveals Olivera. “Before, we were in Vista, Calif., in a 28,000-square-foot plant. In June 2013, we moved into our current 80,000-square-foot site in San Diego’s Alta Mesa neighborhood, doubling our capacity.”

Above and Beyond Quality Control

After an eight-year run with Jensen, Olivera has seen the company grow immensely. “I’ve been with the company for eight years and when I started we were selling roughly 30 million pounds of beef, now it’s closer to 60 million,” he imparts. “Our growth is directly attributed to the quality of our product. This year was the first time in 56 years that we ever had to contend with a recall, and that incidence from a third-party vendor who did not adhere completely to the guidelines of the USDA. When this issue arose we quickly isolated the affected product, removed it from commerce and cut all business relations with that third-party supplier. Our quality reputation is paramount to our business, and we won’t let anyone tarnish it.”

Olivera continues on to explain that the company performs a heavy amount of work for Walmart. “Customers like Walmart demand excellence, and that’s why they come to us,” he details.

Jensen offers second to none quality control through numerous checkpoints throughout receiving and processing. “You can’t rest on regulations when it comes to food safety,” says Olivera. “USDA requirements are the beginning, and we pride ourselves on going above and beyond the base requirements.”

Olivera notes that Jensen’s quality assurance efforts begin even before product hits the docks. “Our computer systems can tell us whether a supplier’s beef has been tested for pathogens, like E-Coli.0157:H7, even before it reaches our dock,” he continues. “If our systems can’t confirm the product has a negative result COA, it cannot enter our dock. If the material is accepted then we have a battery of other tests that we perform to provide further assurance that our products are safe for our customers.”

For example, Jensen was the pioneer of antimicrobial treatments in the ground beef industry. “We found evidence that these treatments could further reduce the potential of pathogens, so we incorporated it into our processes back in 2007,” he continues. “Now these treatments are increasingly becoming a standard for the industry, so we are looking for the next innovation in food safety.”

Beyond preventative measures, the second key to quality is starting with high-quality raw goods. “The meat we purchase is meat that is specifically designated for grinding,” notes Olivera. “We don’t buy trimming leftovers.”

While Jensen has grown rapidly in the last decade, Olivera says the company still faces the daily challenges of any commodity-based business. “There is a shortage of raw materials in the U.S. with the drought in the Midwest and cattle herds being at the lowest we’ve ever seen,” he explains. “It puts more pressure on operations to be more efficient because the prices just keep going up year after year. We’re trying to shave as much as we can off operations to offset the costs of meat products.”

Despite the recent beef shortage, Olivera says Jensen’s product remains a viable, household staple. “The hamburger isn’t going away anytime soon in the U.S.,” he assures. “In fact, when the economy is bad, I think it actually benefits us because people downscale their proteins. They’ll go ahead and buy a burger instead of a steak because it stretches their dollar. And, on the retail side, consumers will go out to eat less and buy more to prepare at home. In America we have a kind of love affair with the hamburger and that trend seems to be growing. There’s still big potential for us growth wise.”

In a multibillion dollar industry, Jensen Meat Company is building customer partnerships, bridging the gap and revealing true product costs and breakdown, backed by the industry’s highest food safety standards.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Export Packers
Gurrentz International Corporation