#11 Heidi Orrock – 4th Generation Family Farmer
Heidi Orrock Podcast Transcript
Neil Dudley: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Pederson Natural Farms podcast. We’re so excited you’re here. We look forward to sharing all about this beautiful industry of better-for-you food, meat, protein. We call the podcast the Pederson Natural Farms Podcast Powered by Protein because we’re going to talk all things bacon, sausage, ham, consumers, customers, vendors that support our business, employees that make us what we are, and peers, people that are in the industry competing for your attention and your dollar. And we think that’s healthy, and we’re proud of them, so we want to share about them as well. Thank you so much for joining us. Be sure you tune in, don’t tune out, and remember, grab life by the bacon.
Thanks for being here. This episode of the Pederson Natural Farms podcast is now in session. We are powered by protein, and the lady joining us, her name is Heidi Diestel. If you’re not familiar with her, just go check her out on Diestel farms- or what is your website? I don’t want to say this wrong.
Heidi Orrock: Yeah, diestelfamilyranch.com.
Neil Dudley: There you go. So, you can learn about Heidi and her family and what they’ve been doing in the turkey industry for a long time now. And we’re going to pick her brain about all kinds of things, just because I think this industry is so fun, your setting is so beautiful, and there’s just never a better time to talk about the things that we do every day. So, first things first, we highlighted you as a customer in this episode because you guys buy our bacon bits and ends and pieces to go in the turkey burger. So, my first question is bacon in a turkey burger, who’d of thunk it?
Heidi Orrock: The foreigner thought it, Neil, the foreigner. So, my husband, Jared Orrock, he’s technically the president of the company, one day we’re sitting around the dinner table, and we were talking about the blended burger craze, about putting mushrooms and sweet potatoes and whatever in burgers. And Jared goes, man, I don’t want any of that in my burger. Like I’ll have French fries. I want bacon; I want real bacon in my burger. So yeah, he called you up, and the rest is history. We launched our co-branded bacon burgers. And I have to tell you, they are really good, really good burgers, the best.
Neil Dudley: Oh, I know. I got some, I can’t remember when, when we just- probably from the first production run of it, I feel like they lasted a day. I need to hit you up for some more or go to the store and buy some, but they are really good. I think it’s interesting, I want to explore what I feel like is a little counterintuitive about that because I think a lot of the turkey burger customers or consumers out there might be eating turkey because they don’t want pork. So, have you found that that’s true or am I just dreaming that up?
Heidi Orrock: No, I mean, I think you’re right. I think when people think of turkey, they think of healthy eating, right? They’re like, oh, I’m going on a diet, I need to eat clean, therefore, ground turkey. And then, they think of like a deli sandwich or deli meats, and then they think of the holidays, and this is culturally how people orient themselves to turkey. But we’re turkey farmers, we live this, we eat it every single day, we know how good it can be. And so, for us, fat is in; like, there’s no problem with fat these days. It’s not the nineties of the low-fat craze. And it’s really one of those things where it does make it taste better, let’s be honest. It’s sugar-free, you guys have great bacon. And it’s a way to actually kind of convert customers, to let them figure out that you can have this great tasting experience with really good texture, and you don’t have to have the weight and the saturated fat of beef. So, we’re cheating; we’re putting some pork bacon in there to bring people over to the dark side. I mean, it’s what we got to do sometimes to compete with the red meat.
Neil Dudley: That’s right. And well, you just have loyal consumers, and I think it’s a way of partnering that I’m just totally excited about and look forward to this product just growing and getting more and more recognition. Which hopefully the people listening here will go check it out, see if it fits into their healthy lifestyle.
Heidi Orrock: Yeah, yeah. No, it’s a great burger. And I think it jazzes us up too because we get to highlight you all, and we get to take something that is a by-product of your products really, the ends and the pieces, and we get to put it in something and make it better. So, it’s really a win-win.
Neil Dudley: Yeah. Now, so along that, what is in your mind brand building, and what is the trick to that? Like how can we give some people that might be listening an insight into- I just think brand is so crucial, so important, it is part of why we would partner with somebody like you. We want to tie our brands to other great brands and people. What do you think? How does your company think about branding?
Heidi Orrock: Well, that’s a great question. I mean, we’re farmers first. So, we really had to be educated in the world and the school of marketing and branding. But for us, it’s really simple – the brand are the people, the brand is the essence of who you are and the people that bring whatever it is you’re selling or doing to market. And for us, our brand has evolved over time. I think it’s ever changing. I think that there’s flexibility within a brand, there’s creativeness within a brand. But you got to be genuine to it, and people can sense that authentic nature. And they can sense the brands that are just kind of a shell with money behind them. And so, when you get something that’s rich and kind of has some depth, it’s because usually you’ve got some depth to the people behind the brand that are making choices that support its initiative.
Neil Dudley: Okay, so this is, I don’t know, I would feel like this could be a touchy subject, but I want to explore it, I want to ask you, and it’s not live TV here so we can always go a different direction. But so, as a farmer, you live in this world of scrutiny over animal cruelty or how you treat your animals. Now I want to explore that reality, right? As a farmer, as a person in the industry, you mentioned trust, the people, all those things. Well, at the end of the day, there are still going to be those scenarios in which you are under scrutiny for how your farm operates. Let’s paint that picture. What is that like, how do you own that, let’s say?
Heidi Orrock: Oh yeah, you got a great subject going. I myself had the luxury of just exactly what you’re saying, right? Here’s this picturesque farm, brand, known for quality, outstanding in our industry, we are always trying to be at the forefront of what we do. We love what we do, so naturally, we’re always pushing the limits on what’s possible. And we had that exact same thing happen. We had people really question the integrity of who we are, what we do, and how we do it. And there was no choice and there was no question in our mind during this process, but to just show up and to say, hey, you’re welcome to question us, you’re welcome to ask us, you’re welcome to put whatever highfalutin cameras in our barns. But at the end of the day, this is farming. There is attrition. This a real world scenario. And are we perfect? No. Do we claim to be? No. But are we doing it the right way? Are we striving for a better food system for tomorrow? Yes. Are we large, what the consumer would consider large? I don’t know, that’s debatable. But are we a microcosm within our industry? Yeah. Like we’re the size of a pepper flake. So, like let’s consider the education that has to happen on both sides of that table. Now we’re all about animal welfare and husbandry practices. How do you have a really high-quality product if you aren’t about husbandry practices, and everything starts on the farm. But, Neil, things happen. Like birds get sick. It’s a non- it’s a no antibiotic program, it’s an organic program, a regenerative program. You have predator pressure. You have avian influenza. Like let’s address the seasonality of farming, and let’s really kind of get down to brass tacks and talk about it. I mean, I think just opening up and saying like, hey, what are your questions? Let’s help educate you. And for those consumers that want to go to that level, yeah, I mean, we’re there. We’ve been doing it.
Neil Dudley: We want to be there. And I think that’s such a good message to get out on this platform as we get more and more listeners, more and more people understanding what we’re trying to do here, which is that exact thing – paint the picture of our industry so consumers don’t have the questions. I mean, they make assumptions, they have to make assumptions. They don’t have the experience you and I have in the reality of just being born into animal agriculture and understanding really just the nuance of it.
Heidi Orrock: Well, and like people want to know. Like we talk about where your food comes from, and local, the locality of it. And people want to know, like they do want to know. I think we get a little warped because we’re so deep into the natural and organic space. And so, there’s a whole batch of folks that are- they want to know the nitty-gritty, but there’s a whole batch of folks that are just like, man, I just want to make a better choice, and this is all very confusing. How can I make that choice?
Neil Dudley: Yeah, where can I go and get just transparent, honest, without a spin, which I’ve been trying to write this blog that is- it just hits right at that humane treatment of animals question. And it’s a very tough thing to write because at the end of the day, who defines humanely? It’s an opinion. It’s a thing that comes from your experiences in life and your feelings about animal treatment. And that’s just a really tough topic. So, I’m battling through it. I’m still trying to really– I’ve had to rewrite it a million times because I’m like, no, some of that’s my opinion, that’s not fact, that’s just how I feel about it. So anyways, I look forward to maybe getting that thing wrote one day and putting it out for people.
Heidi Orrock: You can run it by- Run it by me, Neil. I’d love to look at that. I think it is subjective. I don’t think anyone gets to define humane. I think that is a subjective term, but-
Neil Dudley: I can find you a person that thinks what I think is cruel to animals is humane. And then I can find you a person that thinks what I think is humane is cruel. So, I mean, it’s just such a- so it’s almost, I think we should quit even saying the word. We should start saying, I don’t even know, I haven’t dreamed it up. But I think humane is a word that we almost could try to replace with something else that is understanding.
Heidi Orrock: Yeah, yeah. For Diestel, we started using more thoughtfully raised, and we defined it and that’s how we kind of talk about it and encompass that within the Diestel difference. Because you’re right, every farmer has an opinion about the way things should be or could be, or is humane or isn’t humane, or what matters most. And this is the way we do it, and this is why we do it, this is why we feel so strongly about it. And so, yeah, we transitioned that, too, over time because you’re right, it’s very subjective.
Neil Dudley: All right. Thanks for exploring that with me. I mean, any brand has to be a little nervous about that because the second you start kind of putting that out there, well then, okay, you’ve just opened the door for the polar opposite of your perspective to come right in. And that’s a little bit nerve-wracking even for me, but I have to say, okay cool, look, I can handle that. I can totally be there with them, understand their feeling and their perspective and their passion for their side of the argument. And I feel like we have to allow that because if we didn’t, there would be people in our marketplace that feel unrepresented, and they need representation.
Heidi Orrock: Yeah, I think the difference though, Neil, I mean, truly, I think that there are folks that want animal husbandry to be the center focus as farmers, what we’re focused on. But then I also have to say, because we’ve had such a lengthy experience with this, and it’s no secret, Google’s never going to hide it, and we’re totally transparent about our struggles with farm animal activists. But at the end of the day, there is a microcosm of people who want to end farm animal agriculture, and they don’t want to see any farm animal agriculture, and they’re promoting veganism very openly and they’re very aggressive about it. And so, I think we also need to distinguish these two populations because I don’t think anyone who just wants to strive for better animal husbandry practices is saying that veganism is the only way. So, I do think we just have to make that quick little line of distinction.
Neil Dudley: Yeah. Part of my blog is asking that question – is eating animal protein unethical? I mean, that kind of goes to the core. I don’t think so, but some people do. Is that the pinnacle of being inhumane? I mean, it’s just going to be a fun thing if I ever get it finished. Okay so, thanks everybody for listening through that. I think it was a lot of great insight from a lady that’s been there, dealt with it, been in those tough conversations, and I wanted everybody listening to get a chance to know they’ll stand right there and be a part of that conversation every time. I want to explore sustainability and how you guys are thinking about that. I mean, we watch you guys, not only are we friends, but I watch you as kind of just a place or a direction for our company to be thinking about how are we going to answer those questions and make sure we’re moving towards sustainability, and what does sustainability mean? So, tell me what you guys think about that.
Heidi Orrock: Yeah, well, thanks, Neil. Thanks for watching. When sustainability first kind of came onto the scene, my brother Jason was like sustainability really shouldn’t be something that we talk about, it should be something that we do, it should be really actionable. And for us, as farmers, as you get deep into farming, you see the cyclical nature and the cycle that nature takes on. And so, it’s really natural for us to look and say how do we work within the natural cycle versus trying to be better than nature as humans and creating and trying to solve manmade issues with manmade problems that we created for ourselves. So, for us, we’re always trying to kind of roll back the dial. And my grandpa, Jack Diestel, who started this ranch in 1949, like he’ll drive down to the valley, we’re in California, and he’ll look at the trees and know if it’s going to be like a cold winter, or he’ll say that the almond blossoms are a certain way or what have you. And it’s like, yeah, like that’s nature. And that’s truly how we look at sustainability or regenerative initiatives. We are taking something that we’ve created as an issue, whether it be biofilm or bacteria load or something like this, and then we’re saying, well, instead of chemicals, instead of sanitizing, let’s look at a probiotic solution, where you are out-competing the bad bacteria with good bacteria, and you were creating an environment in which the good bacteria lives, versus just a chemical application that annihilates all bacteria and tries to sanitize these surfaces. So, this, I mean, it’s just, it’s very simple in a way. It’s complex, but it’s simple. So that’s how we look at it. Just like we need to work more with nature versus against it.
Neil Dudley: I think the listeners, a lot of them will just be glad to know you’re thinking about it, right? I mean, ultimately there’s no playbook or exact rules on how to get there. So, I think farmers and ranchers and business owners and brands and entrepreneurs all just have a lot of things on their minds that consumers– Oh, and that was- those birds chirping is just beautiful. I love hearing that in the background. I’m serious. Like people listening to this, she’s just outside. And that’s another great thing about being a farmer. You get to be outside and on the land.
Heidi Orrock: Yeah. I mean, it’s going to be a long road, but you also need to, as a consumer, you need to vet those companies. Value over volume is really where that comes from.
Neil Dudley: And I think consumers are vetting the companies. That is one reason we want to do these podcasts. It’s one reason we’re trying to find any and every way we can to be in front of people and answer their questions. I read a book by a guy named Marcus Sheridan, and it kind of changed my life really. It’s the simplest thought process to marketing, They Ask You Answer, simple as that. The customer asks the question, you answer it. I mean, why is it- why would you ever be nervous about answering it? Because all those million things. You’re not sure if their opinions going to be the same as yours. You don’t know if that’s going to give your competition a leg up. Like he recommends just put your pricing on your website. Just make sure everybody- who cares who sees it because the customer coming there wants to know that answer. Anyways, it was a really cool book. So, I would, if you’re listening, check that one out. What do you got, Ben?
Ben Warren: I’d like to go just a tiny bit deeper on the sustainability thing, because I think you guys are really unique in that your sustainability also offers you, I guess, some differentiation in your company because things like your heirloom birds and your pasture raised birds and how that is a form of sustainability, but also helps to sustain your business as a wider customer base. Tell a little more about that and what makes that different for you guys?
Neil Dudley: Oh, don’t say that nasty word, profit. That’s a part of sustainability too, isn’t it?
Ben Warren: That’s right.
Heidi Orrock: Yeah. Yeah. But I mean, yeah, but in a way, like this is business. Like we’re here to be thoughtful about the way that we do our practices, but we’re here to make money. I think that’s okay. I don’t think that’s a problem. I don’t know. There’s your answer, Neil.
Neil Dudley: I think it’s a good answer. Sometimes. I feel like the consumers in the world feel like these companies make too much money, right? Would you say you make too much money? Or at times, you make a fair profit that can continue your initiatives, can pay you guys a livelihood and help you raise your family and these things. But like we don’t get a hundred percent margin. I mean, that’s just not a reality.
Heidi Orrock: Yeah, Neil, we’d be lucky if we got ten. I guess when we look at like the sustainable initiatives and we look at the future, if we were to say what’s your five- or ten-year goal, it’s a lot like that 30 years ago with antibiotic free. When my parents got into this business, it was antibiotic free, vegetarian fed, which was like a foreign language. And you went into butcher shops, and you sold turkeys one by one with a phone book. There were no cell phones. There’s none of this. And the butchers didn’t really care that much about these attributes. They cared about the quality, the meat to bone ratio, the yield, the taste, the texture, the finish. This is what they cared about. And so, as we looked to the future, we said, well, this is better for the animals. We think this is a more sustainable, more holistic food program or kind of the future of our food for the next generation. So, there’s reasons why we really believe in the antibiotic free. But the market didn’t really want to hear that story yet. And then in 1999, you could label certified organic. And so, then that was the next iteration of what was maybe sustainable or what today now we’re transitioning into heirloom breeds or regenerative. And really you look at the market and you look at the shift in the industry, you have highly commoditized producers. The largest producers in our global meat supply, supplying antibiotic free or even certified organic products. Walmart is one of the largest sellers of organic food, Walmart. Like, okay, well, like what’s sustainable about that? Yes, it’s great that we’ve made that many end roads and that that is the demand of the consumers to have organic, but at the end of the day, you can do organic really well and you can do organic really [poorly 22:23]. You can have a really good nutrient dense certified organic tomato, or you can have one that has no nutrient density but has the claims. It’s what happens on the farm. It’s what happens in the ground.
Neil Dudley: I just want to like jump in because you’re touching on a great thing, a great point I think the consumer doesn’t understand. Organic would probably come into their mindset as humanely raised as well. Look, you can be organic and have zero humane requirements on the farm at all. Like that’s just a transparent truth. Like you can meet the organic requirements and not have to have any expectation of humane treatment. Now I’m not accusing organic farmers and ranchers of that, but I think that’s a piece of our system that’s a little bit broken, that you can get some certifications without others. And every brand, every group is trying to find their differentiation. I mean, I think we even got away a little bit from what Ben was asking about, which heirloom and pasture, and those are ways you guys are kind of still moving towards differentiation. And we need those things.
Heidi Orrock: Yeah. Well, at the end of the day, as a company, when you look to the future, you have to say consumers and buyers are going to value the family story. They’re going to value this fourth generation Diestel family turkey ranch, since 1949, family owned and operated. They are going to identify with this. And then there is a huge batch that are going to say I love what you have, I love your brand, I love you, Heidi, but you’re too expensive. You’re 30 cent premium, and I can’t get my shoppers to buy that at retail. So, for these reasons you’re out. And so, for us, we’re saying, okay, well then, we’re going to talk more loudly about the realities of certified organic or NAE. Yes, these are huge portions of our programming. Yes, we still produce this way. They’re also highly differentiated. Our certified organic turkey is not that of the other guys’ certified organic turkey. But we also have identified that the shoppers, and I don’t think that most shoppers understand that, but there’s a small kind of revolution happening where there are a batch of folks who are saying that organic product I bought at whatever banner, it’s just not all it’s cracked up to be. And I got to go source something better, and where’s the better?
Neil Dudley: Totally. So, what is heirloom, just real quick? That’s a word I’m not sure everybody understands.
Heidi Orrock: Yeah. So, we have like a different breed of turkey, and it’s an older breed. Now, in the truest term of these birds, it’s the heritage, it would be a heritage line, which is a single breasted, bronze and black feathered turkey. And what Diestel did, we’re turkey farmers. We want things to taste really good. We want there to be a finish. And so, for us, we didn’t love the true heritage breed. So, we crossbred that. It’s still a bronze and black feathered turkey, but we call it our Heirloom Collection. So, it’s an older breed. It has a very unique taste to it, a more turkey flavor if you will. But it’s yeah, it’s just the older genetic line.
Neil Dudley: I just love the way farmers even talk about genetics and breeding and the animals. It’s an insight that I think the everyday consumer doesn’t get all the time, and it is really beautiful. You guys spend a lot of time just thinking about the birds and how you make them better, a better experience for the consumer, a better experience for themselves, just their life on earth and their environment.
Heidi Orrock: I once described a turkey as cute. I was like oh, it’s a cute little turkey. And I got stopped in my tracks. And someone was like where does that nomenclature even come from? How do you call a turkey cute? Well, it is. Like if you look at all the birds out there, we’re talking about turkeys, like it is a cute little turkey. It’s got great meat to bone ratio. It’s a great little guy. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Neil Dudley: I think every animal, outside of cats, which the cat people will not like me, but I can’t find much cute about a cat, but I can find cuteness in a pig, in a baby calf, in a little bird. I mean, all these things.
Heidi Orrock: Oh, I see the comments flowing in, Neil. I see the comments flowing in.
Neil Dudley: Uh-oh, we’re blowing up. All right. Kind of the last question, I wrote- I’m in charge of the copy for these episodes. So, I’m kind of writing ahead some of the copy and talking about- and I put this in, I need to verify it. I wrote a sentence, something like this: Heidi has done over thousand product demonstrations in her life, and that is how she is so in tune to the consumer and what they’re looking for. Do you think you’ve done a thousand?
Heidi Orrock: Oh, I mean, I’m sure, I’m sure. Like, you know?
Neil Dudley: Since you’re a little kid, part of what I was reading on the website was as a little girl, you were going around with your mom and doing product demonstrations. I’m thinking pretty easily, you’ve done a thousand. And even this right here is almost a product demonstration. Every time you talk about your company is a product demonstration.
Ben Warren: I’ve seen ten or twelve of them myself.
Neil Dudley: There you go, just Ben in his tenure has seen you do ten or twelve. Do you agree with that experience being very integral to how you know what people are looking for?
Heidi Orrock: Oh, yeah. Yeah. You learn the most when you are out talking to the consumers. When you’re out talking to the guys behind the butcher counters or behind the delis, that’s when light bulbs go off for me. I mean, I did grow up in the business with my parents, and they had a mission in the early days to visit every single customer, no matter how big, no matter how small, that bought our product. And so, we walked the tile of every grocery store. We knew those folks by name. And that was just ingrained in me from a very young age, but that’s where you really learn. That’s where you really learn. You can look at syndicated data or you can look at all of these marketing agencies who want to tell you about the types of consumers and how they’re shopping. You really just got to go to the grocery stores and do some observing and listen to the feedback that you get. That’s where the magic happens. That’s the beauty of it.
Neil Dudley: Here’s the big win in this conversation – what are we going to do about that now with all the COVID restrictions and stuff? I mean, I’m sad. I just went to a conference, and I got to meet people and cut up and just talk and that’s my jam. I love that. That’s why I’m doing podcasts, right? I mean, I love these conversations. It just makes me excited. What are we going to do now that we can’t do demos? Some retailers bring it back, some are like, no, cut it back off again.
Heidi Orrock: Yeah, I think it’s going to be tough. I mean, I think it is a point of difference for us, it always has been. But I think you really have to find your voice in the digital format, like you’re doing these podcasts. Everyone has to delight their customers digitally. And I’m not saying that you have to spend into oblivion because a lot of the digital marketplace is just how much you’re going to spend, how much you’re going to sponsor, how much you’re going to post. And I don’t think that that is quite as necessary, but to stay relevant. And I think as we go forward, the next generation isn’t like the previous. I mean, people wanted to talk to you, they wanted to see your product demonstrations. You do some product demonstrations today and they’re kind of like I’ll take your sample, but I really don’t want to speak to you.
Neil Dudley: Oh yeah. I mean, we did one recently and they said it was the weirdest thing, like people would run by you just to make sure you didn’t- And that’s just an illustration of their reality – fear of human contact, all those things that this pandemic has brought to the forefront and kind of is causing.
Heidi Orrock: Yeah, I think it’s a digital game, and there’s going to be pros and cons to that. That’s why we feel it’s so important that people- like we have a phone number at the ranch. You can call it any day of the week. And during working hours, Monday through Friday, a human will answer the phone. So, we’re here.
Neil Dudley: That’s great. Heidi, thank you for your time. I mean, this conversation is so valuable to me. I hope others find value in it. If you want to talk to Heidi, or like she said, there’s a phone number on their website, you can get a real human during their business hours.
Heidi Orrock: You can ask for me; I’ll be there.
Neil Dudley: There you go. Ask for her, she might be there. You could get to talk to her. And she’s been doing this a long time so even if you’re, I think if you’re a brand or if you’re just anybody that’s interested in that education, that insight, take the chance. I mean, I push myself to do that. Like I need to just reach out to those people that I feel like could teach me something and ask them. I mean, what’s the worst-case scenario? No, I don’t have time, I’m sorry, we’ll have to try this again another time. So, everybody, thanks for listening. Heidi, thanks for being on the show, the podcast, look forward for this just to get out there and give everybody a chance to see what you guys are all about.
Heidi Orrock: Thank you so much. We appreciate it. And it’s been fun and lots more conversation to be had.
Neil Dudley: That’s right. We didn’t even touch on every single question. It just- 30 minutes goes by in a snap and you’re like we can’t tell the whole story, but we’re going to do the best we can to get some piece of it.
Heidi Orrock: Totally. Thanks, Neil.
Neil Dudley: All right. Have a good one. Bye.
Hey everybody, thanks for listening to this episode of the Pederson Natural Farms podcast. If you don’t mind, go hit that subscribe button and check us out at pedersonsfarms.com. Thanks for listening.
(1:36) – What led you to put bacon into turkey burgers?
(4:44) – How do you think about brand building?
(6:02) – Thoughts on animal treatment/cruelty
(14:27) – How do you think about sustainability?
(25:06) – Heirloom Turkeys
(27:04) – Heidi’s experience with product demonstrations and it’s relation to understanding the customer
(30:53) – Wrap Up
Go here to learn more about Diestel Turkey Ranch
The Pederson’s Natural Farms Podcast is produced by Straight Up Podcasts & Root and Roam