#28: Edward Ruff – Owner of Morrilton Packing
Edward Ruff Podcast Transcript
Neil Dudley: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Pederson’s Farms podcast. We are so excited you’re here. We appreciate you joining us. And we look forward to sharing these conversations with thought leaders from our industry. They’re going to paint a picture from every perspective – consumer, customer, vendor, employee, and peer – that I think is going to be super valuable, and we’re really excited to share. So, thanks for tuning in. Remember don’t tune out, and grab life by the bacon.
Okay, everybody, thanks for joining the Pederson’s Farms Podcast. I am super excited to introduce you to a guy named Ed Ruff. He runs Morrilton Packing out in Arkansas and does a lot of work with us on ham. And we’re going to talk about that, but before we do, hi to everybody in YouTube land that’s watching. I just want to make sure everybody has a chance to get this information because I think it’s really important to understanding our industry of better-for-you food as well as Pederson’s as a brand and the companies that we value so much that make us who we are, that really, if I was to tell the story of our ham, it has to start with my mom trying it and really not liking it very much about 20 years ago. So, we realized we weren’t very good, we got better, but at some point, we couldn’t scale the way we needed to. And we also got involved in this thing called Southwest Meat Association, got to know Ed and his dad and their company, and just realized that they’d make a great partner. All right, so now I’ve rambled along good enough. Ed, why don’t you tell everybody just quickly how you guys got started, maybe just the story of you.
Edward Ruff: Well, the company is six years short of being a hundred years old. I’m the fourth-generation president operator. To be honest with you, the company was founded originally out of necessity. There wasn’t any government programs or anything, and people had to do something to eat, or they were going to starve to death. So, it was right along 1928, just short of when the Great Depression started, an immigrant from Germany, a family cousin, started a small retail meat market where they’d butcher a hog or two in the back and make a little bit of breakfast sausage and cut a few pork chops. That was a hard way to make a living back in the day, but they’d delivered meat to homes on bicycles. Well, the only refrigeration people had were the stand-up cabinets with the ice block in the top, if they were fortunate enough to have that. And then, right on the heels of getting the business started, here came the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Then, of course, nobody had any money and couldn’t afford anything. So, the company actually survived killing cattle for the emergency relief program. They would run them in by rail from out west, drive them down the road to the plant, and the company made it three or four years through the Depression by killing cattle for the government.
Neil Dudley: There you go. Our ancestors, they were forged in the real fire. I think about some of the experiences that we’re going through today, I mean, COVID has been crazy, and yes, it’s certainly turned the market upside down, turned our businesses upside down or certainly made big changes within it. But I still don’t think we’ve even in any minute way experienced what happened through those years of the Great Depression, Dust Bowl, just surviving. What do you think about that?
Edward Ruff: Well, let me tell you a little story that my grandfather used to tell me about back then. And I think it’ll paint the picture you’re trying to paint right there. Next to the plant, when they were killing those cattle, the government built a boning canning facility. So, they were taking the carcasses across the road, government employees there were boning the meat, cooking it, canning it, and then distributing it out to people that needed it. So out back of that building was a flatbed dump truck, and that’s where they threw all the bones after they got through boning the cattle out. Well, they ended up having to build a fence around that whole property because grown men were fighting each other over those bones to make soup stock. So, my grandfather looked at me many a time when he was still living, and he said, “Son, you don’t know what hard times are until you’re having to fight another grown man for a cow bone.”
Neil Dudley: Yeah, that’s right. It really does paint the picture of just desperation. Like, man, we’ve got to figure this out. I know there’s some bones over there, we can make bone stock, and just that battle that really people lived through, went through. And I think it’s such a robust piece of your story that you guys are real close to a hundred years in business, and that means you went through that. Let’s talk a little bit about the changes that COVID has brought, and with that perspective, how have you thought about those? How has your team kind of taken that challenge and ran with it or not ran with it? What are y’all doing?
Edward Ruff: Well, it’s fluid. We’ve had to rethink some stuff from the hours we work in a day to revamping what full-time versus part-time means to give people flexibility. Of course, staying on top of supply has obviously been fun. We actually have put on a couple extra people out in the marketplace to stock store shelves for the meat markets to make sure the product’s actually out there, unconventional things that we wouldn’t have done 10 years ago.
Neil Dudley: Everybody in our- like on our side of the desk, suppliers to retail markets, even grocery stores, they don’t have access to labor. I guess don’t have is the wrong word. It is really tight, the access to labor, in retail, grocery stores, restaurants. So, anything we can do, I think that’s a real brilliant thing y’all chose to do, which is put people in the stores to help because if you don’t, they don’t have the store stock staff to get the products out. So, it kind of comes on to our plate to make sure and solve that problem.
Edward Ruff: You bet. Well, and I told our sales guys, I said all the advertising in the world won’t help you if the meat is not on the shelf.
Neil Dudley: Right. That’s totally, totally true. All right, so let’s talk about the Southwest Meat Association a little bit. I think our listeners should have some understanding of what that organization does, some of your role you play there and how that also parlays to working with our government officials to try to drive our industry and their thought processes in the direction that makes the most sense to us. Now that’s a lot of stuff I just said. Do you want to pick one thing and go with it?
Edward Ruff: Well, Neil, if I had to sum up our experience with Southwest Meat in a real short verse, I would say that I’d be hard pressed to think we’d be very successful right now without the organization. Had we not become members and been involved in learning from our peers over the years as well as the leadership at SMA, it’d be hard to navigate this business.
Neil Dudley: That’s totally true. Just they turn out to be friends that are competitors that are doing similar things. Look, we probably don’t have this business relationship without the Southwest Meat association. And I’m bringing this up because it doesn’t mean necessarily that the Southwest Meat Association is the be all best thing ever for the whole country. It’s great for us. I’m encouraging anybody listening that has a business of any kind, think about joining those associations and making those friends and finding those good people that can help you through the tough times, maybe keep you from stumping your toe on this thing or that thing because they did before and they’re willing to share. I just think that’s really valuable, and I appreciate guys like you that lead organizations like that. So, tell me a little bit, like what made you, how did you convince yourself you had all that extra time to do that?
Edward Ruff: My dad joined SMA in the early 1990s, and he had never really been involved in trade groups. And a group of guys were going around looking at processors out and about and inviting them to come join. When he got involved, he saw the handwriting on the wall that as the government regs change, you need to have a, for lack of a better term, a support group to bounce things off of and learn from. And the decision for me to be involved was pretty easy because I was raised being told and being educated and shown the example of the more you’re involved and the more people you know, the better off you are. And nobody gets ahead by themselves. Everyone that gets ahead, somewhere along the way, somebody had to have held their hand through something. And Southwest Meat and the relationships and the family environment of it is, it’s important to me deep down, and I feel a responsibility to be part of the leadership to help carry on the tradition and the excellence for all of our partners.
Neil Dudley: That’s right. And to help those youngsters coming into the industry, to mentor them. People did that for me. Look, I mean, they’re still doing it for me. I’m pretending like I’ve got something to share too, but the facts are I learn more every time I get in a conversation with you guys. And when I say you guys, it’s the guys that I kind of look up to that have been leaders in the Southwest Meat Association who are business owners, who are kind of sitting atop an organization where there’s nobody to look around and find something to blame it on. I mean, at the end of the day, the buck stops on your desk. And I think there’s just so much value in that. And the fact that you guys will just share, you come onto this podcast and talk to me about whatever questions. I mean, we didn’t prepare at all for this, everybody. If you’re listening, if you’re watching, we just got on the phone, Zoom meeting, and started talking, and this is the conversation.
Edward Ruff: I’ll tell everybody, I said, Neil emailed me on Friday and said, “Hey, you want to talk Monday?” I said, “Yeah, I’ll catch up with you Monday,” and here we are.
Neil Dudley: That’s right, we’re catching up. I mean, this is the most raw, real look behind the scenes of what happens in our business, in our industry that I think consumers can get. I mean, this is not scripted. It’s nothing. It is just a couple of guys that work together talking. Now, so since we are talking a little bit about working together and hams happens to be front of mind this time of year with Easter and that kind of thing coming, you’re mentioning you guys kind of started out in the harvesting piece of the business and kind of survived the way you did. How did this further processing piece of the puzzle start coming into, I guess, focus?
Edward Ruff: Well, I think that my grandfather and his brother Lonnie, who worked for the founder from the time they were 12 and 13 years old, they all three got together in the forties and early fifties and said, you know what, we won’t survive this thing if all we are is a harvester, we need to also do some processing because they saw what was in the market and what was happening. And my grandfather said that their R&D consisted of this. A spice supplier would come in with a casing supplier and help them develop something. They’d put it out on the table in the hallway in the old plant on a cutting board with a knife and fork, and if they came back an hour later and it was gone, they were onto something. If it was still there, they went back to the drawing board.
Neil Dudley: I think that method works today.
Edward Ruff: You bet it does. But they used to do dressed beef and sell beef cuts and whatnot back in the day. And then we were boning our own bulls for beef, for baloney and hotdogs and such, but the economies of scale on the harvesting side, just over the years, you kind of had to pick one or the other, and the leadership chose in the eighties and early nineties that we were better at processing then we were harvesting. So, we decided to do what we were good at and let those others do what they were good at.
Neil Dudley: Which really paints the exact picture of why we work together. You guys are great at ham production. We’re not great at it. Also, we run out of space in our facility, it just becomes a bacon plant. So, you start saying, okay, who’s my best friend that’ll help me with this that I can trust, that will jump through all the hoops that we want you to jump through. I mean, we’re not the simplest, easiest bunch to work for because we expect a lot on the, I guess you want to call it call-outs and audits and affidavits, all these kinds of things so we can make all the claims we want to make. And your name comes up. For those that, I guess ladies and gentlemen that might be buying a Pederson’s or Nature’s Rancher ham around the country, tell them where you are. So where is this ham? I’ll tell them where the pigs start. And we’re talking a little bit about vertical integration. Well, that’s a thing that we have a luxury of, I guess, participating in. The pigs start up in the Midwest, Illinois, Wisconsin. They go to harvest in Iowa. Then the hams are sent to Ed. So, Ed, you take it over from there.
Edward Ruff: All right. Well, to let everybody know kind of where we are, we’re about 40 miles west of Little Rock, almost central Arkansas. So, the hams and the cuts come to us from the Iowa harvest plant, and Neil, myself, Cody and their team have worked together for several years and have developed a system for processing that clean label, clean production. We hand [inaudible 14:50] the ham through the injection process. Through the netting process, we smoke them about 16 hours with real hickory and let them hang after they’re smoked for a couple of days. And then we put a spiral slicer to them.
Neil Dudley: Folks, that didn’t take him very long to explain, but I’m telling you, there is lots of expertise in that. I mean, there really is. I can tell you stories for hours about me trying to make hams, me and Cody in the early days trying to make a boneless ham that would stay together. And it was just bad batch after bad batch after bad batch. And so, there’s a lot of finesse and just experience within that quick illustration Ed just gave of the process. But I think I like to point out real hickory wood, we’re not using any liquid smoke, and that process is audited throughout to make sure those recipes are made just right, the smoke is done right, the packaging is done right. And you guys are a great, great solution for that. And I kind of want to tell everybody to look you up, but I’m afraid you might be busier than you really can handle already.
Edward Ruff: I’ll tell you what, Neil, let’s put this out there for the people that are listening, if you want to put a timeframe to it, to make one ham takes five days.
Neil Dudley: Yeah, that’s great.
Edward Ruff: From the day you put the seasoning to it, let it sit overnight, you hang it, cook it overnight, let it chill for 24 hours to 36 hours. By the time it’s in a package ready to go, it takes five calendar days to get that ham ready to be sold.
Neil Dudley: I hope that is information people take and appreciate. And once you start, you can’t pause. Like it also has to keep flowing, too. There’s no, oh, wait a second, the orders have changed or something, and also if you don’t predict it, if we don’t get you good forecasts, we’re in big trouble too.
Edward Ruff: Yeah, because it’s so much time. It can be done quicker, but you don’t end up with the same ham. The five days is the five days. So, between you and myself, my team, your team, we have to hit this pretty darn close to be successful, getting it out to the customer.
Neil Dudley: Yeah, that’s right. And just in case any of those team members are listening, I want to say a big thank you from Pederson’s and I bet Ed would echo that, too. Thank you from his side to the Pederson’s people. It is a partnership in every sense of the word. We have to communicate, we have to deliver on our promises. You have to communicate, you have to deliver on your promises. And at the end of the day, it all shakes out into a great product that we just know the consumers appreciate. Our ham orders are only going up and up and up. And so, we’re like Ed, more orders coming, what are we going to do? All right, so great. There’s a good insight for everybody into the process of hams. Now just, I know you do some other stuff. What else do you?
Edward Ruff: Oh, we kind of run the gamut, Neil. I mean, we do bacon up here, just like you guys do down there. Of course, ours is an old traditional cure on a different product, but we work in the bologna and hot dog and smoked sausage and summer sausage world. And I’d hate to even put a number to how many different products we have.
Neil Dudley: Well, it’d scare you. Don’t say it out loud, it’d scare you.
Edward Ruff: No kidding. Private label cone pack, branded, mail order. It’s just all over the gamut.
Neil Dudley: All right. Tell everybody what your brand is in case they see it out in the market. Look, I want to support these guys. You guys support us. So, folks, if you happen to shop, and well, I don’t know, where all do you sell your branded products?
Edward Ruff: Mostly Memphis to Fort Smith and Southern Missouri to Northern Louisiana corridor.
Neil Dudley: Great. So, if you’re in that geographic location and you see what’s the brand?
Edward Ruff: Petit Jean Meats.
Neil Dudley: There you go. If you see Petit Jean Meats, you’ll know it comes from Ed Ruff and the team at Morrilton Packing, and they’re just really stand-up people. All right, so now I need some business philosophy or even a- yeah, business philosophy, or just how do you think about things? Like for listeners that might own businesses as well or they’re battling these same kind of we’ll say challenges or dynamics of the marketplace today, what are you guys thinking about? Like kind of what’s top of mind right now for you?
Edward Ruff: Well, I’ll tell you two things my grandfather preached to my dad and my dad preached to me. And this is directed at people that own a business and they’re struggling with the rising costs and what to do about pricing and all this good stuff. And the two things grandfather preached was, number one, don’t lower your price to do twice the business because you’ll make the same money and wear out your people and equipment. And you’re here for one reason and one reason only, do not be afraid to ask for profit. So Daddy always said that if he kept those two things in mind in all his decisions, he figured he’d be doing okay.
Neil Dudley: There you go. And if you don’t ask a profit, how much do you really believe in your product? So, but I’m scared. I’m scared if I raise my price, people will quit buying it. I mean, I feel like I’m scared there’s a threshold. Consumers are going to eventually say I’m not paying that. What do you say to that thought? Because that’s an honest thought of mine.
Edward Ruff: That is an honest thought, and it’s an honest fear of every businessman that has to make the decision on price. The only thing I can tell you is over the years when my father was still living, I watched him several times just bite the bullet and do it, and we’re still here.
Neil Dudley: Right. I think you have to have this- See, this is what I’d want consumers that buy either Pederson’s, Nature’s Rancher, Petit Jean, any one of these brands and these products that we sell, I want consumers to hear this in our voice and in this conversation, we think about you. We aren’t in business if we don’t. So, we are scared to raise price because we don’t want to put that pressure on you. We want to earn your loyalty and keep your loyalty, but we also have to sometimes just do it because that’s the only solution to keep a viable business in place. So, I don’t think we’re ever raising price just so we can go to Cabo two more times a year.
Edward Ruff: No. And you really have two choices at the end of the day. When the raw material does what it did this last year, if you don’t raise the price, the product won’t be on the shelf anymore because you won’t be in business.
Neil Dudley: That’s right. I think everybody understands that kind of inherently. As a consumer myself, everything I buy or use has gone up in cost.
Edward Ruff: Oh yeah. Well, Neil, I took the family out to the little local drop in on Friday night and we wanted to have supper and not cook. The same combination of meals that we always get, having a couple of beers and a glass of wine, I remember when I paid $65 plus tip for that. This last Friday, it was a hundred dollars plus tip for that, same everything. It’s just crazy.
Neil Dudley: That’s right. I mean, I think I just empathize, I empathize with you, with our consumers, with Americans, with people in the world that are feeling this pressure of price. I think the government’s working, I don’t know if you could call it studiously, or I don’t even know what you would say. I think our government is trying to do some things. Are they doing the right things? I don’t know that, probably have some opinions on it. But at the end of the day, we’re all on this circling ball together and we just have to do the best we can. And kind of the way I think about it is I’m just going to love everybody as much as I can and make sure we have a business for these employees to come to so they can provide for their families, their kids, and all those things that are so important to them.
Edward Ruff: Oh yeah, that’s number one, taking care of people.
Neil Dudley: What’s the one big oops you’ve had in your career that you’re like, man, if you’re listening folks, try to avoid this one? You got anything off the top of your head?
Edward Ruff: Oh, lord, which one do you want first?
Neil Dudley: Well, right. This sometimes is a tough question for business owners because I think this is a truth. You just let those things go pretty fast because you kind of need to file it for memory and for avoidance in the future. But it’s not a thing you hold onto and just fly a flag about, like, oh yeah, we failed, we messed up. And maybe there’s no such thing as even a failure. There’s only experience. There’s only education. I love kind of trying to tell those stories. One of mine within Pederson’s would be we made a chicken sausage one time. We thought the labeling would be real cutesy and we’d put something like no pork, no kidding. So, really catch the eye of the pork conscious consumer, somebody who’s kind of trying to avoid pork. Well, we put the chicken sausage in a pork casing. So that was just a bad boo-boo. So that’s one I’ll never forget, plus our customers won’t let us forget it.
Edward Ruff: Well, I’ll tell you what, I read a quote once and it stuck with me, and it said the biggest illusion about communication is that it actually took place. And I think any of the boo-boos I’ve had along the way are because I forgot that lesson.
Neil Dudley: Wow. That’s a great one. It really is. The biggest illusion of communication is that it actually took place. Is that right? Which means nobody actually understood what we left the meeting with.
Edward Ruff: Amen.
Neil Dudley: Well, I hope after this podcast, people understand what we’re talking about. We love the consumers. We intend to do the best we can each and every day. And there’s a guy, his name is Ed Ruff, and his team that take care of making Pederson’s hams, Nature’s Rancher’s hams at the highest quality that we can possibly put together. Okay, Ed, man, I appreciate you jumping on, catching up. It’s good to see you, good to talk to you. Tell everybody hi over there from the team at Pederson’s. And any other thing that we didn’t touch on that you think you’d just like to get out there for people?
Edward Ruff: I want everybody to know that people like to know where their stuff comes from, who they’re buying from. And in the big corporate world, you don’t know the people that are behind the deal, but all the listeners need to know that you and I and our teams are the ones in the trenches. We’re not just somebody over here that’s a spokesperson. We are, when people buy a Pederson’s or a Petit Jean, they are buying from you and I, the people that they are looking at.
Neil Dudley: Right. Absolutely. And I care about that and I know others do, so we’re trying to tell that story. That’s what the podcast is all about. By the way, did you break anything after those Cowboys managed to lose that playoff game?
Edward Ruff: No, I didn’t tear anything up, but I guess if there was a satisfying moment post Cowboys losing that game, it was seeing two underdogs pull it out yesterday.
Neil Dudley: That’s right. That’s right. If you’re a businessman and you’ve built a business from the dirt up, you know that underdog story. And I find myself rooting for the underdog almost every time.
Edward Ruff: Oh, yeah. If I’ve got no favorite in the game, I’m for the underdog all the time.
Neil Dudley: That’s right. All right, everybody, thanks for listening to this episode of the podcast, and please come back next time, listen to some more. I guarantee there’s conversations there that can tell you a lot about Pederson’s and the people we work with. Ed, thanks for everything you do, and we’ll see you around. Have a great Monday.
Edward Ruff: You too, Neil. Thank you all. Wish you the best.
Neil Dudley: Hey, everybody. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of the Pederson’s Farms Podcast. It’s been a blast bringing this to you, and I sure hope you enjoyed it and found value. If you did, tell a friend, share it out on social media, hit that subscribe button, or go check us out at pedersonsfarms.com. We sure hope you do. And thanks for being here.
Visit us online at www.PedersonsFarms.com
(1:37) – Ed’d background and career
(3:05) – Surviving the Great Depression vs. what we experience today
(5:03) – How has Covid changed your business?
(6:45) – The Southwest Meat Association
(11:16) – Adding meat processing to the business
(13:48) – The farm to plate journey for Nature’s Rancher hams
(18:14) – More about Nature’s Rancher
(19:30) – Ed’s business philosophy
(23:47) – What’s one mistake from your career that you learned from?
(26:07) – Final thoughts
The Pederson’s Farms Podcast is produced by Johnny Peterson & Root and Roam.