J.F. O’Neill Packing Company Inc.
As a third-generation beef processing and packaging company based out of Nebraska, J.F O’Neill Packing Company Inc. (J.F. O’Neill) maintains the same standard of excellence today as that which defined the company at its founding in the 1950s.
“My grandfather started this company about 50 to 60 years ago, and then my dad ran it for the last 30 years,” says Brian O’Neill, vice president of J.F. O’Neill. “We’ve changed overtime. It used to be that we’d buy cows ourselves, kill them and we’d sell the meat. But now, all of these bigger plants that buy and sell, they outgrew us.”
In response, J.F. O’Neill was forced to discover a niche within the beef processing industry. “We provide custom slaughter and fabrication for small ranchers that are tired of raising these great animals, but after they go to market to sell them, they get screwed by big plants that just don’t buy them or buy them at low prices,” he continues.
Although the company works with smaller ranchers and farmers, J.F. O’Neill exports beef throughout the United States and the world. Moreover, the company has the capabilities of processing specialized beef such as Wagyu, a breed of cattle favored in Japan. The company also processes beef for numerous farmers focused on raising grass-fed and hormone-free cattle.
“Customers come to us when they want to brand and market their own beef,” says Brian. “Bigger plants won’t bother with ranchers unless they’re doing 500 head a day. Our customers might come in with four or five animals, and they have their own little corner of the market.”
Big Business, Small Customers
On one hand, having smaller customers than the huge processing plants presents J.F O’Neill with the opportunity to make personal, long-lasting client relationships. On the other hand, though, Brian says that depending on smaller clients can be difficult. “If the customer cannot get the cattle to us, then we have no business,” he says. “The process gets interrupted if the cattle raisers cannot deliver.”
Thankfully, J.F. O’Neill has had enough years in the industry to learn how to tackle problematic issues, and today the company pulls in sizeable annual revenue. What it comes down to, according to Brian, is having the ability to assist and retain customers.
“It’s important to maintain the same customers that have been with the company, some for 20 years,” Brian details. “We have to give everyone who walks through the door a chance to make a successful business. Sometimes we end up killing for them only once, but sometimes they stay in business.”
Brian typically advises small cattle farmers to find a niche and then utilize that corner of the market to maximize a farmer’s stability and profits. For example, one of the company’s customers exports beef all around the world, while another focuses solely on beef distribution within Nebraska. Both companies exceed at targeting a niche, but both found different means of accruing a financial lifeline.
“We had one customer that wanted to jump in and begin exporting to Europe within a year,” says Brian. “But it takes three years to plan out something like that, so they dropped out of business very quickly, because they did not have the experience to plan and raise cattle. They did not know the market.”
Knowing the market is what has allowed J.F. O’Neill to survive - and thrive - for all these many decades. Today, the company continues to do what it can to help clients follow along the same lines of success.
Currently, seeing as how the company has maintained stability through the many economic ups and downs over the past six decades, Brian hints at the possibility of expanding the company into a second location.
“We’re hoping to add on or build our building out a little more, or get another operation going for further processing,” he continues. “Maybe doing more than just processing meat, like actually doing specific cuts and specific grindings.”
Only time will tell if the company follows through on those plans, but Brian seems confident in bringing the company to a new level within the coming years. Such action, he says, will require more time to think about how the plan should be implemented. Until then, though, Brian O’Neill will continue ensuring that J.F. O’Neill Packing Company Inc. provides an exemplary service to small farmers across the country and beyond.