#4 AJ Flinn – Internal Operations Coordinator at Pedersons
AJ Flinn Podcast Transcript
Neil Dudley: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Pederson’s Natural Farms Podcast. We are 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’s 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.
Alright, Pederson’s Natural Farms Podcast Powered by Protein. And what’d you say? Yeah, number one, actually, the first employee that we’re going to highlight, and I’m really excited about this part of the podcast because the truth is Pederson’s is great because of the people that work here. It really is true. And you all are experts at stuff that nobody even knows there’s such an expert. So, we’re going to get to share some of that. And the guest today – there I go ramble a little bit, which is a thing I don’t want to do because we don’t have a lot of time and there’s a lot of things people can hear about you and learn from you. So, let’s get to it. AJ Flinn is the guest. Oh yeah, wave to the cameras, everybody on YouTube and that’s watching on that platform, we’re taking videos so we can share it there as well. We’re going to be putting it on every possible podcast or anywhere you can submit an RSS feed, the Pederson’s Natural Farms Podcast will be there. Okay AJ, so tell us a little bit about who you are, where you came from, and then how you came to live here at Pederson’s with us.
AJ Flinn: Okay. Well, I am a transplant of Texas originally from Ohio. We have just recently moved to Hico, which is about 20 minutes from here. I’ve been with Pederson’s, oh, I think it’ll be going on 12 years. So, I’ve been here- a little bit of time.
Neil Dudley: And I appreciate you for that. And I think that’s a great thing about Pederson’s, another piece of the thing I’d like to share is we have people that have been here a long time, and that just means they know a lot about what we do and how we want to do it. Matter of fact, you set a lot of the standards we adhere to. Anyways, there I go cutting you off. So, keep going. Hico, Texas, Google it if you don’t know where Hico, Texas, is.
AJ Flinn: It’s a little blip on the map there. But as far as what I do here at Pedersons, I always, my title is internal operations coordinator, but I’ve always said I’m kind of a Jack of all trades. I came in doing customer service, shipping and receiving, morphed over into logistics, and then into IT and USDA labeling.
Neil Dudley: That’s actually the thing that makes you so super valuable to us – you’ve seen all the pieces. This is going to be funny. Turn your little earphone over on your right ear. Then you’ll get to hear in your right ear. That’s good for the video. See, every podcast has a fun little thing like that in it. But okay, so now you’re hearing in both ears. You know so many like small details of how things work, the way you’ve been with us so long, and learned these things, helped us learn. Like the truth about companies like Pederson’s is we learn – when I say we, the company learns by the work AJ does and a lot of other people, which I’m excited to get on here over time. What are some things that you think about that you’re like, wow, wish consumers just really understood, or even customers, people that we’re trying to do business with?
AJ Flinn: Probably the biggest one is the whole USDA labeling side of it and kind of what it takes to get a product from R&D to market. It is months’ worth of work and trial and error to be able to launch something. And then also just all the background work to have the supporting documentation because we are, I mean, we’re a claims company, we’re all natural. So, we have to have all of this proof so that we can put it out there for the consumers and they can feel trustworthy that it’s really what it is. So that’s something that I don’t know that a lot of people realize it’s not, oh, we have this new bacon-
Neil Dudley: We want to say that on the label, let’s just do it. I promise you, I want to say all kinds of things on the label and AJ, every single time, says no, time out, let me make sure we can do that. And that’s a great check and balance for our company for sure and I imagine a lot of other companies. Consumers, customers, all the people that might be listening to this podcast, that is something I really like to just, or I am proud of that AJ does for us is she keeps us on point with our claims, our supporting documentation, all those things that the US government requires us to be transparent and honest about. Actually, the truth is you could do it without that, but when you got caught, it’d be bad, bad news.
AJ Flinn: Yeah. Yeah. And part of my job is to keep us out of that trouble. So, I try to stay on top of that.
Neil Dudley: I just like this story, so I want to tell it – how AJ came to work at Pederson’s, it’s pretty fun to me. I think people that work at Pederson’s may not know it. So, it’s good to share. So, my wife Stacey had come and was starting to work in the marketing or help us figure out what marketing even was. We were just selling and trying to build this business – when I say we, me and Cody and the 12 of us that were here at that time. And now we’re up over a hundred people, so that’s kind of fun to think about. Anyway, Stacey had been doing some tour management for a guy named Clinton Anderson, he’s a horse training clinician, I guess you’d call him. Well, AJ happened to work there, too. And I remember Stacey always liked AJ. She was like, man, this girl is a killer person. So, you can tell the rest of it from there. How’d you kind of actually end up here?
AJ Flinn: So I was, at that point in time, looking to make a career change and I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do. I just knew I needed a change and was kind of putting feelers out as far as like what’s out there, what’s close, what might be interesting. And I contacted Stacey and told her, and she’s like, “Oh, let me make some phone calls and see what I can come up with, and we’ll get back with you.” And then I heard from Cody and Neil and went and met with them and learned a little bit about Pederson’s. Because at that point in time, 12 years ago, I had no idea there was a bacon company in Hamilton, Texas, let alone what even all natural meant. I used to buy the 10 for 10 Bar-S bologna and bacon. And that was, just what it was. I was never in the natural niche. And so, it was really neat to start to dive in and go, oh, wow, this is cool.
Neil Dudley: And over 12 years, you’ve grown with that industry. Like 12 years ago, this industry was way different than it is today. It was way- It was not nearly as well developed. It wasn’t as followed. And if you think about even 20 years ago, I mean, we got laughed at, at conferences and stuff when we started talking about what we were doing. So that’s fun to see too, you just hang in there, keep doing it. And I think AJ would be honest about this too – we’ve not always just got along perfectly great. Sometimes it is, we battle a little bit, and that’s healthy. I think it brings us to a better end result.
AJ Flinn: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.
Neil Dudley: You’re passionate about the things you do; I’m passionate about what I do and how I want it to go. But we always, it’s fun working with somebody that challenges you and won’t just-
AJ Flinn: Go oh, okay.
Neil Dudley: Yeah, absolutely.
AJ Flinn: Yeah, kind of back to labeling, Neil’s like, “Let’s say it like this.” And I’m like, “You can’t say it like that.” “Why not?” “Okay. Because we can’t.”
Neil Dudley: That’s true. Well, and then there’s all kinds of stuff, nutritional facts panels. Talk about that a little bit.
AJ Flinn: Oh, those are- I think we could do a whole other podcast on just the whole ins and outs and the misconception within the industry and within the consumers and everything. But nutritionals are so important, and people, I don’t know, truly understand kind of how we get there, how they’re created, and part of that comes from we just don’t- you look at it and you’re like, oh, this looks good, and you walk right on and keep going. But then you have some people that really want to dive off into them, and they’re really watching their sodium and the no sugar and watching the sugar and everything. So that’s something that-
Neil Dudley: Okay, so what’s a question you get a lot on nutritional fact panels? Or let me ask you a question and you answer it. Like we’ll role play a little bit. Well, hey, this ingredient has blueberries but no sugar. How is that possible?
AJ Flinn: The way that it has blueberries or any kind of sugar within the recipe and no sugar shows up is that it’s such a minuscule amount that it doesn’t read on the- we’re running nutritionals and the originals are based on a hundred grams. And so, you may have less than a gram of sugar in a hundred grams of the product. Once you bring it down to the serving size, which is USDA says, hey, an actual serving of bacon should be 10 grams, 15 grams, whatever it is.
Neil Dudley: Okay so, the USDA dictates those gram sizes. Because I always thought we just chose what we wanted.
AJ Flinn: No, they specify based on the product, the [inaudible] recommended daily consumption of the product. So, sausage is like 56 grams per serving. And so, then your nutritional is broken up into those amounts of servings within the package. And so, when you’re looking at 100, which it would be like the whole recipe, and you break it down into one single serving, it dilutes the sugar enough to where there’s no sugar to be able to read for the nutritional.
Neil Dudley: So, what do you think, I feel like, consumers can get buffaloed by nutritionals. Let’s say you pick up one pack of sausage and compare it to the next pack of sausage. Am I right about that? How would that happen?
AJ Flinn: That would happen with probably with the cook loss and how they’re, if they’re banking it on what type of cook loss they’re looking at. Or if you’re- there’s different, you’re banking on the Frankfurter versus a hot dog [BRAC], that all varies. And also looking at you have to be comparing grams to grams. So, if they’re saying a serving size is 10 grams, and this sausage is saying a serving size is 20, your nutritionals are going to be astronomically different.
Neil Dudley: Right. So now, I’m going to challenge you a little bit. You just told me the USDA dictates those serving sizes. So how are they different?
AJ Flinn: Well, like I said, there’s different categories that are out there, and it’s depending on which one you select.
Neil Dudley: So, if you go into the Frankfurter category, you might be required to be a certain gram and maybe a hot dog category would be a different one or bacon or smoked sausage.
AJ Flinn: Yeah. All the way.
Neil Dudley: I just think everybody listening, if you go and you watch nutritionals, there’s a big conversation to go around that and pay attention to the grams, do that math if you really want apples to apples. And every brand, every product is trying to differentiate itself. We do that. We are very strict with our nutritionals. The other- Okay, AJ, who polices nutritionals? Who is the nutritional police? Like who would get us in trouble if we just lied?
AJ Flinn: The consumer, because they-
Neil Dudley: Yes, that’s what I wanted you to say, that’s what I wanted to make clear. Listen, you must pay attention to these things. I can tell you Pederson’s is as honest as we can possibly be, but we’re not perfect. We will make mistakes, we’ll make miscalculations. So, I think it’s very valuable for the consumers to be critical of nutritional facts panels and don’t just take them for what you see. I’m not accusing anybody in the industry of doing something shady, but they could have just made an honest mistake. And now you’re making buying and purchasing decisions, and if you’re tracking macros, those kinds of things, you could just be getting misled, not necessarily intentionally.
AJ Flinn: But it could happen.
Neil Dudley: Yeah, it could. So that’s the truth. There is no nutritional police. It is the consumer. What’s some other questions I know you get all the time from either our customers, our consumers, our vendors, that you’re like, geez, how many times am I going to have to tell you about this?
AJ Flinn: Really, a lot of it comes from, and us here at Pederson’s, we try to be as absolutely transparent on every single ingredient that we can. We have a ham label that lists natural flavors because it has some [oilier] essence and oils in that natural flavor instead of listing them all out, which makes our ingredient statement look terrible. Because it goes-
Neil Dudley: It’s just long.
AJ Flinn: Yeah, it’s long. So, we list natural flavors. And that’s one to where our consumers and customers are both so used to us being as transparent as we can be, when they see that, they think we’re hiding something. Well, what do you consider natural flavors? What’s in there? So that’s one thing that we do our due diligence on when sourcing raw materials and spices, things like that, that we have the full listing of everything. Even if we don’t necessarily list it in the ingredients, we list it according to standards, we have that backup documentation when we have those questions.
Neil Dudley: And we’re used to operating with a typically educated consumer, very interested. So, they hold us, I mean, part of the reason we are as good as we are – at least in my mind, I think we’re good – is thanks to the consumers. They drive us that direction. Look, if you’re a consumer of better-for-you-food or any kind of food and you want to affect that industry, listen, I promise you, Pederson’s will listen to you. I can’t promise you every other brand or production facility will, but if enough of you get together, they’ll listen because you actually drive our business. You’re what keeps us in business. You’re what gives us the opportunity to pay people like AJ and take care of her family, and all those things. See, the employees of the business are the thing. They really are because if you picture all the spider that that goes into, their kids, their grandparents, their families, it just gives me a lot of happiness or fulfillment to be a part of a company that looks to keep growing, keep doing better, keep hiring more people.
AJ Flinn: And a company that I feel like we’re dedicated to the employees as well, because just like we have so many that have been here for so long. We invest a lot into them because we want to keep them. You want to keep that good, talented person on your team and not be-
Neil Dudley: And the experience is valuable, is very valuable in any business. So, somebody that has been here, they know our culture, they know our people, they know the crazy ways that you might actually have to get something done. Because those processes are another thing AJ works on really hard is trying to get me to follow processes. I don’t do a great job of that, but they help our company when we do follow them.
AJ Flinn: Right. And even on the labeling side, having somebody on the line that will go, oh, this doesn’t look right. Are we sure this is correct? Is this a misprint or are we using the right everything? That’s having somebody that has a longevity there that recognizes this isn’t printing our logo on the label right now. Why not? Instead of just not knowing, like they have the experience-
Neil Dudley: What you just said painted a great picture of this podcast and the point of it. Because those vendors that print those [inaudible] boards, and sometimes that printer doesn’t print right. So now you have to go back to the vendor, and we have to be able to count on them to support us and do it right and fix that and stand behind their work. I just can’t wait to highlight the vendors that we work with. They’re great. They make us great too. This podcast is going to be so much fun for me, and I just believe it’ll be a great resource for anybody that’s interested in the better-for-you food business, Pederson’s, entrepreneurship, how you build a company, and wow. Whole30, I wanted to touch on it. The theme is Whole30. Now, have you ever done a Whole30?
AJ Flinn: I have done one and a half.
Neil Dudley: There you go. So, what was your experience with that? I think it’s really cool that you did that. I did it. We sell no sugar bacon. We are a Whole30 approved brand. As we build the brand, the products, and work with that community, it’s important to us to experience that- Well, and plus, Whole30 is a pretty good way to figure out what works for you in your diet or doesn’t work for you.
AJ Flinn: Absolutely. Yeah. The first one, like I said, I did one and a half, and I did a half one because I had a younger kid at the time, and it’s hard to cook two separate meals for kids and then yourself and everything. But no, it is very-
Neil Dudley: What’d you, like what do you remember from doing it? Anything?
AJ Flinn: I remember that it was, it got to be fun. It was really hard to begin with, those first couple of days, just because it’s you have to prep your meals. There isn’t any, oh, wait, I’m going to just run here and grab that. Or I didn’t bring lunch today so I can run down and get something here. You have to be very deliberate in preparing and knowing at least what you can and can’t eat.
Neil Dudley: Did you find – this was part of my experience, you just totally don’t have a clue how much sugar and carbs you eat. I was looking up and I was eating, I can’t even remember what it was, but two or three times early on, I would just be eating junk. I’m like, oh crap, I’m supposed to be doing the Whole 30. It just kind of totally blipped out of my head.
AJ Flinn: And I think dairy was the biggest for me because I am like, we’re huge cheese people. And so, like to remove dairy was oh, my gosh, and even butter, like you have to resort to ghee. And I’m like, oh, this is so hard to just remember and have that stuff on hand so that you’re not tempted to go and grab the bag of chips.
Neil Dudley: If somebody was thinking about doing it, would you say you recommend it or no?
AJ Flinn: I would. I think I would, my recommendation would be to go through your cupboard and remove everything that’s not compliant so that you’re not tempted and make sure, and don’t necessarily throw it away, but put it to where it’s not at fingertip grasp. And that makes it easier. Because then you’re forced to go, oh wait, I need to do this and not that.
Neil Dudley: And in today’s world, there are a lot of companies that can help you get through a Whole30 – Thrive Market, Tessemae’s. There’s a lot of kind of resources. Look, Whole30 is also pretty easy, to just go- yeah, Pederson’s. We’re interviewing Tribali, that’s going to be- so or we already talked to them. I mean, but you can also do it by going to the grocery store, getting fresh vegetables, protein, meat, no sugar added, other products.
AJ Flinn: Well, over the course of the last few years, so many of our products have actually been created around Whole 30, not having sugar in them. A typical breakfast sausage, most people would think maple. And so, we had to challenge ourselves to go, no, we can’t have that. We need to be able to provide something to the consumer that’s going to hit this market and keep it minimum ingredients and everything of that nature.
Neil Dudley: Absolutely. I want to ask or kind of throw this little conversation topic out there – it is my perception that consumers are getting more and more interested in what’s in their food, where their food came from. Do you agree, disagree with that? And if you- I guess alongside that, do you feel like Pederson’s is trying to answer or do a good job of providing that information?
AJ Flinn: I do agree. I agree that people, they’re more aware. They may or may not need all of the claims that Pederson’s carries, but they at least want to know. And they want to have that confidence that their food is- that what’s in it is in it, and that’s where I said the transparency that we’ve tried to give. Like we do that for that reason because we don’t want them to question, oh, what is really in this?
Neil Dudley: Yeah, absolutely, that spices, natural flavoring, those words in the nutritional or in the ingredient statements are always a little bit of a, that’s kind of a little place to hide stuff.
AJ Flinn: Right, and people just assume that if you’re using spices and natural flavors on labels, that’s what you’re doing. Like that’s been my experience, especially from our consumers that want everything out there; they think we’re trying to hide. But we’re not. We try to- we’re transparent.
Neil Dudley: And we in a little bit of a different world because there might be another company or a consumer out there that doesn’t care about that; they need to eat. So, I guess we have a little bit of a skewed perspective just because we live it everyday kind of dealing with consumers, customers, people in the stakeholders in this whole industry. It’s where, if we talk about the boom of Impossible Burger and, shoot, I can’t think of the other one, but these vegetarian substitutes, meat substitutes, I think they’ve got a place. I’m not, I really am not putting them down, outside of the fact that, man, that ingredient list is long for those products. And I just don’t know. I’ve never been a vegetarian. I should probably try to talk myself into doing it for a little while just so I have a better understanding of their perspective. Because I don’t think vegetarians are crazy or stupid or any other thing. They are living the life that they want to. I don’t even know where I was going with that. But just, the way we look at things is short ingredients, transparent ingredients.
AJ Flinn: Less is more.
Neil Dudley: Honest nutritionals. Look, people are scared of sodium. Well, our products have high sodium in a lot of cases, especially bacon. And people are scared of fat. Well, our products have fat. So, all we can do is just be honest about it. Now, hey, if you actually know it’s not for you then thanks for at least picking the package up and looking at it. What’s your favorite thing about Pederson’s Natural Farms?
AJ Flinn: My favorite thing? I would almost- One of my most favorite things is the atmosphere and the comradery that we do have here. We’ve talked a lot about that today as far as the longevity of people being here. And you get to know them, and you get to know that they stand for the same qualities that you do when you’re producing the product for the consumer. And so that’s just reassuring to know that you have these people that are backing the brand and that are all together working towards making the best product out there.
Neil Dudley: Yeah, a similar vision. What’s your least favorite thing about Pederson’s? Listen, I would love to just say what’s your favorite thing and stop right there, but that’s not very transparent, right? Every company is dealing with things or every- Okay, I think it’s fair for employees of any company to understand you love things, there’s probably some least favorite things too. Can you name one of those?
AJ Flinn: Probably right now is our ever-changing IT situation and everything. You have to keep moving and changing, but it’s so difficult and it takes so long to go from point A to point B. Like you can’t just go, oh, let’s change this and it’s up and running tomorrow. It’s a long process. So that’s probably my most least favorite thing right now is IT.
Neil Dudley: I love that transparency. And thanks for just saying it. I’ll bet you money, any of our peers out there in the business are struggling with those same things, especially production plants and that kind of thing. Like how are you going to implement scanning of products, making sure all your yields are tracked right? I mean, we’re constantly- See, part of sustainability is profitability. You’re not a very sustainable company if you can’t figure out how to make some money. Well, part of making money is data and understanding a lot- Also don’t mess up shipping, a lot tracking. Oh my gosh, there’s a whole other podcast about just how far back we can trace product. That’s a requirement from the government. If you put product that’s unsafe into the market, you have to be able to trace everywhere it could have went and get it back. So, we have to- we don’t want to do that. Hasn’t happened, maybe once that I know of that we’ve ever, we’ve done- We’ve never actually had an enforced recall, but we’ve done some voluntary withdrawals of product that we knew we needed to get back, mislabeled or something, not really a food safety issue. If we ever were to have a food safety issue, we’ve got to have those processes in place so we can say, okay, we know where every bit of this went. We can call these people, tell them we need the product back.
AJ Flinn: And those processes have to change. Like they have to change on a daily, yearly, whatever basis, just to be able to keep up with the changing market and the changing regulations. And in our internal flows, the way things work, that we have to make sure that we’re making those adjustments. So, it is just always a hamster wheel.
Neil Dudley: So, if you think business is ever going to just smooth out and not have change, well coming from these two people, we’ve never experienced that in 20 years for me, 12 years for AJ. So, embrace the change; keep moving forward. AJ, anything else you want to say to just somebody listening that’s like, hey, a word of encouragement or a little bit of insight into our brand, our company, and you know that I might not have pried out of you at this point? By the way, thank you for doing it because I think that you’re doing a thing to lead the team. Listen, folks, getting these people on the microphone is not the easiest job in the world. So, AJ kind of got picked because I knew she’d be one that everybody would look to and say, okay, well, AJ did it, I can do it. They’re not going to make me look stupid. So, thank you for that.
AJ Flinn: No problem. No problem. Words of advice, not really other than-
Neil Dudley: What would you say to your counterpart at XYZ company, or peer or something? Is there something like, hey, there’s another day coming? If you feel like you’re just drowning by or being fed – what do they say? How did they say – drinking from a fire hose?
AJ Flinn: Right. Basically, just to take a day to step back and reflect and to make sure you’re looking at the whole big picture and looking further down the line and not just what’s immediately in front of you because you have to be prepared for two weeks from now and not just tomorrow in this industry.
Neil Dudley: Absolutely. Everybody, we’ll link anything, we might just link you to our website, link you to some USDA labeling regulations, those kinds of things. We’ll put links in the show notes for all the stuff AJ talked about. And thank you for listening. Hit us up on Instagram, anywhere you can find Pederson’s Natural Farms. We want to be there, we want to be a part of the conversation, and we’re here to answer your questions. Thanks for listening.
Hey everybody, thanks for listening to this episode of the Pederson’s Natural Farms Podcast. If you don’t mind, go hit that subscribe button and check us out at Pedersonsfarms.com. Thanks for listening.
(1:56) – AJ’s background and the value she brings to the team
(3:59) – What do you wish consumers and customers knew about your work
(5:39) – How AJ came to Pederson’s
(7:28) – How the natural farming industry has changed & butting heads
(8:33) – Nutritional Facts Panels and how they’re written
(12:17) – Who is the ‘Nutritional Police’?
(13:17) – What are the most common questions you get from customers and vendors?
(15:06) – Investing in Employee talent & Working with great vendors
(17:55) – Whole30
(21:32) – Are consumers getting more interested in what’s in their food and where it came from?
(24:51) – What’s your favorite thing about PNF
(25:34) – What’s your least favorite thing about PNF?
(28:21) – Wrap Up & words of encouragement