#59: Steve Polidori & Melodie Harris – Polidori Sausage
Steve Polidori & Melodie Harris Podcast Transcript
Neil Dudley: All right, everybody, this is another episode of the Pederson’s Farms Podcast. We’ve got a great group of people. It’s a group this time, it’s not just one guest. We’ve got Melodie and her brother Steve with Polidori Sausage, and I’m so excited to share their story, give you all a minute just to hear where your food comes from, and through the eyes and through the story, through the experience of these two people. So welcome to the show. And y’all take the ball and run. Tell us a little bit about Polidori. Maybe not- I don’t want to spend the whole time in the history of Polidori because it is a historied company. So people, go Google Polidori sausage in Denver, you’ll be able to pick up all these things. So quick introduction, then I want to talk about just some nitty gritty details of how somebody does what you do.
Steve Polidori: Well, I’m Steve Polidori, fourth generation sausage maker. This is my sister Melodie.
Neil Dudley: You got to go watch this on YouTube, if you’re not catching it- if you’re listening to audio, there are going to be some things here. We’re doing this via a streaming platform, so we can see each other. You might not be seeing them if you’re listening on the podcast, but we’ll just say Steve just pointed to his left at his sister. Maybe it’s right because I don’t know if these cameras are mirrored. Anyways, keep going.
Steve Polidori: We own Denver’s oldest sausage manufacturer, still family owned and operated here in Denver, Colorado. My great grandmother, Hannah Polidori, started the recipes out of a local grocery store in 1925. And people started, where can I get that? And it led on to basically people in the store and then restaurants and actually other stores started buying the products that they’ve produced.
Melodie Harris: And we operate out of a facility in Park Hill, Colorado, Denver, Colorado. We have about 35 employees. We make over 60 different varieties of sausages. At this facility in our plant right here, we make all of our own raw sausages, everything from breakfast sausages to obviously Italian sausage, chorizo, which happens to be one of our number one sellers, we make sweet Italian sausage, garlic sausage, and we’ve got a full line of precooked sausages as well.
Neil Dudley: All right, good. So, there’s a great jumping off point. We’ll suffice it to say, y’all know a little bit about sausage. Now, what are some of the priorities, or as you’ve built the company, as you’ve grown the company, we sell you some raw materials on occasion, and we work together. That’s partly how we have a relationship. I want the listeners to get a chance to hear what you think about claims based production, claims based raw materials, labeling, what’s the importance of it? Has it proven to be a thing that works well for y’all or not? Does that question make sense?
Melodie Harris: Yeah, I think it does. We have customers that have a strong sense of responsibility in using products such as Pederson’s that are antibiotic free, where the pigs get to roam freely. A lot of times we refer to those pigs as sort of our varsity athletes. They’re the best pigs. But where there is never ever any antibiotics that they’re getting, and we do have customers that have a very strong sense of responsibility to the products that they’re putting on their plate with the products that we’re making with your pork. And so those types of things are critically important. In addition to it being antibiotic free, we’re blending those products with spices. And that’s it. We’ve got a pretty simple tagline around here. It’s called pork, spices, period. I mean, there’s nothing else inside of our stuff. There’s no MSG. There’s no sodium phosphates. There’s no filler. There’s no BHA and BHT. There’s nothing in there. I mean, what you see is what you get. And I would say it’s very important. And those claims are very important to consumers as well these days.
Neil Dudley: So, is 100% of your business done that way? What I want to explore, what I’m curious is, I can’t imagine, well, I guess I could imagine the founder of the company didn’t use nitrate or any of these kinds of preservatives.
Steve Polidori: Basically, the reason they’ve added nitrates was shelf stabilization. We’re looking at a product right now that we got maybe two weeks, three weeks shelf life on. I mean, I don’t see why it can’t be that way. As far as I can understand on a national level on everything, which we are, we are still managing to sell our product within those timeframes where it doesn’t go bad.
Melodie Harris: We are, Neil, sourcing some commodity pork, and some of that commodity pork isn’t necessarily the same as the high quality pork.
Neil Dudley: I think that’s evolution. I mean, that’s partly how a company grows and stays in business as long as you guys and gals have. It is the willingness to say, okay cool, I see a need here in the market, we can service that need, what’s required. And I think it’s part of why this conversation is really fun. For Pederson’s, we’re not perfect. We don’t know everything there is to know. So we’re trying to learn, we’re trying to get better. I feel like we’re a lot the same in that way, what do you guys do, what we do, just the basic philosophy. I think people don’t understand there has to be- you’ve still got a piece of your business, the sustainability of your business is tied to products that you’ve developed over years. And why mess with those? Some of those products are just your core competency.
Melodie Harris: Well, and sourcing those, the pork from Pederson’s aligns with some of our core values and our sustainability that we have here at our plant. We are a certified green facility. When we moved to this plant in 2016, we knew from our last facility to this facility that we wanted to be certified green.
Neil Dudley: What is that? I don’t know what that is. Tell me.
Melodie Harris: The city and county of Denver has a program where you can be a certified green facility if you meet certain criteria, and it’s a spreadsheet. I mean, there’s probably 35 different criteria where you have low flow water where you can in your facility, where you have compressors that have energy efficient motors, where you’re utilizing LED lights, where you have recycling, where we’re providing RTD mass transit bus passes to our employees so that they can get to work, so there’s less cars on the road, and those types of things. So there’s a handful of different things. And every year, you’ve got to go through that certification. And every year, we try to add something to that. In the last 18 months, we’ve added, we’ve got a couple of employees that have electric vehicles, so we’ve got a charging station. It’s all of those things. And so, sourcing your pork, along with our sustainability program, it’s a nice marriage.
Neil Dudley: Well, we’re certainly glad to have that business and to be a piece of that puzzle. What is it like working with your brother or working with your sister? And what’s the dynamic there? And it’s obviously something that you do well. It’s not a question about that. It’s more like, how do you figure out whose wheelhouse is what? And how do you figure out how to add people to that team? Tell us a little bit about that perspective or that story.
Steve Polidori: It’s interesting. Actually, it kind of amazes everybody how we get along so well. I think it’s more I kind of let my ego go. I drop it off at the curb when I walk in here and knowing that we have something to accomplish at the end of the day, and whatever I think, whatever she thinks, we have to come together and make it work. So, at the end of the day, there’s a day or two where I go home, and I’m like, I hate her; I’m sure she goes home and says, I hate him. But we have an end goal that we want to accomplish. I think we are doing a pretty good job of it.
Neil Dudley: I think so. I love that perspective, too, because that’s true for everybody, not just brothers and sisters. I think it’s interesting, it adds dynamic when there’s also family relationship there. But in every business, you’ve got to have those days where you have to have a little bit of angst in there to really know you’re pushing something.
Melodie Harris: And I think we’ve been working together for 20 years now.
Steve Polidori: I’ve been here 30.
Melodie Harris: He’s been there 30. We’ve been working together for 20 years, and each of us has our own strengths and each of us has our own weaknesses. And I think it took a little time to figure out what’s in his wheelhouse, what’s not in my wheelhouse, that type of thing. But I think ultimately, at the end of the day, it comes down to respect for one another. He does things great. I do things great. And we respect one another for that. And for the things that I don’t do well, or he doesn’t do well, we’ve got a team of people to help us with that kind of stuff.
Steve Polidori: We surrounded ourselves with good people.
Neil Dudley: This is a- Go ahead, Melodie.
Melodie Harris: And I think there are advantages to working with family. Unlike an employee sometimes where you’ve got to go shut the door, and I’ve got to go to talk to that person. I mean, with my brother, he’s easy to talk to. You can nip stuff right away, you got a second set of ears and eyes, and I don’t know. And truthfully, at the end of the day, you can talk to him differently than you can an employee. And so, I think that can potentially clear things up if there’s any conflict, but I would say 95% of the time, we get along and we align and it’s fun.
Neil Dudley: I think you do that hard work in the front end of figuring out what’s in your wheelhouse, what’s in his wheelhouse, what’s in their wheelhouse, adding those team players around you that really flush that out. That’s just good sound business advice. And I don’t think Steve and Melodie are going to be the only ones that tell you that. Almost every business group of people I talk to, that is just a recurring theme. Look, we got to do the things we’re great at and find people to solve the things we’re not great at. So anybody listening that’s thinking about, man, what’s going on in my business, or I want to start one, keep that very high on the list of things you got to do. How did you transition from mom and pop to this? That’s, I think, interesting.
Steve Polidori: We still have that story. Let’s put it that way. We still use it. My grandfather had some customers that actually we aligned with that were small time at the beginning, and then we aligned with those customers like Kroger, King Soopers, basically, but we’re still direct store delivery, going through the front door in those King Soopers that we were delivering to. It wasn’t like backdoor delivery, it was we walked through the front door. We had about a dozen King Soopers that we started with. So we use those, actually, avenues to really drive forward.
Melodie Harris: And our business these days, probably 25% of our business is to retail or to grocery stores. And 75% of our business is to foodservice. It’s the restaurants, whether they’re multi chain or mom and pop, whether it’s dormitories at universities, stadiums, I think we’ve had some success growing our business with the official sausage and bratwurst of the Colorado Rockies, the DU Pioneers, the CU Buffaloes, and hotels and camps and those types of things. I think we’ve had some success. And when you’ve got a story to tell, having been in business, we’re about to celebrate our 97th year in business, when you’ve got a story to tell and you’ve got a consistent quality made product on a day to day basis, if you can get in front of somebody and have them taste our sausage, honestly, nine times out of ten, we can convert or get somebody who might be opening up a new concept to select Polidori. Especially in Colorado, people are just more local.
Neil Dudley: Sure. Well, there you go. That’s one of those kind of nice things about Denver feels like that, just as a guy that lives in Texas and just watching from a distance. We do some business there, but it feels like that. Like we want to kind of support our own. We have certain values we’d really like to promote. You said something, as a company Pederson’s has been pretty hesitant to do that really caught my ear. I hope it caught everybody else’s ear. That you guys found value and success in spending those dollars it takes to become the sausage of the sports teams there in town, that kind of thing.
Steve Polidori: Spend money to make money.
Neil Dudley: Yeah. I miss that a lot. I’m scared to spend the money because I don’t know how it pays off for me.
Melodie Harris: Well, and it is scary. I’m not going to lie, you’ve got to have the money to spend because really, those are some of your discretionary dollars. Those are dollars that are eating into your marketing budget. Yeah, they’re discretionary dollars for sure. And it’s really hard. It is hard, I think, to track the ROI, the return on investment, of those sponsorships. But when a baseball team is playing 80 games, and the Colorado Rockies are an amazing partner, they fill that stadium-
Steve Polidori: With a mediocre team.
Melodie Harris: With a mediocre team, but we’ve got a lot of visibility with the opponent. We’re filling the stadium with a lot of opponents. I mean, we’re about to have a 16 game homestand and that place for the first few games will be filled with Cardinals fans and Rockies fans. I mean, it’s a great location, the views beautiful, etc., etc.
Steve Polidori: Denver is a transplant town. So there are not very many natives here. You go to those baseball games, and you’ll see 50% of the other team’s fans there.
Melodie Harris: You’ve got 80 games and high visibility, the return on your investment, we see it in our retail numbers. They’ve increased throughout the years. And it wets your appetite to do a little bit more with some of the other sports teams in the state. So, we think we get good exposure, and to be honest with you, they’re a great partner.
Neil Dudley: As owners of the company, this all paints a picture for marketing, for the truth around building a brand, which is partially what this podcast is about. It is about putting the Pederson’s brand, the Polidori brand into somebody’s life in a way that adds value. Okay, cool, now I understand a little more about the Polidori team, the meat business in general. Where does that little marketing flair come from? So, anybody that’s seen the Polidori delivery truck driving around Denver’s going to know you’ve got a little bit of a flair for that. Where does that come from? Or is that just something you like to do? Or does it pay?
Melodie Harris: I think both. I mean, I love marketing, I’m not going to lie. But we hired a marketing director five years ago, Caroline Laun. And we have a marketing agency that we work directly with and an amazing graphic artist. And so, it’s a little bit of strategy, where do you best want to- you could put a white truck on the road. And those are impressions. And if you don’t have some photographs and some kind of tagline or something, then you’re missing some of those impressions. So, from our trucks to the schwag that we wear, to stuff that we hand out at events, to basic promotional campaigns that we have within grocery stores for demos and those types of things, I mean, there’s a lot of different strategy paths that we have as it aligns with a lot of that marketing. And it’s been fun to grow a brand. And we get approached by some food service people who do some private branding. And our stance has been no. I mean, we’re a 97-year-old company not interested in bastardizing our own brand and selling against us.
Neil Dudley: Yeah, I’ve lived that. I mean, it’s that business battle. I mean, let’s say you’re just a consumer listening to this, and you’re not really in the industry, but you go to grocery stores, and you buy products, and some day, you may walk by and see Polidori sausage. Well, just think about every time they’re paying for this impression to get an opportunity for you to try their product they’re super confident in, that is taking away from the next vacation fund of Steve and Melodie. Because it is y’all’s business. Like you’re taking that money pretty much out of your pocket to try to get their attention. I want people to understand that, when they’re out shopping, it’s not in every case, it’s not these people now get to make a bunch of money and go to Cabo. It’s they are giving up money to hopefully provide a really tasty, good experience for you with food.
Melodie Harris: Here’s another way of looking at that, Neil, when you’re supporting, for listeners here in Colorado or people that might be coming to Colorado to buy something, for a camping trip or whatever you want to call it, a hiking trip or whatever, when you pick up a national brand, you’re supporting people outside of the state of Colorado. And when you support local, those funds and dollars go back to, sure, Steve and I, but they go back to Steve and I and Polidori sausage in a way in which it helps us to continue to expand Polidori. It goes back to the spice company that we buy spices from and supports them in their efforts. It goes back to the local corrugated company where we’re buying boxes from them and it supports their efforts. It goes back to each and every employee that we hire here in the form of profit share and those types of things and 401K company match. It goes back to all those kinds of things. So, each and every time somebody wants to do that, it makes our job a little bit more difficult to try to convince those people that they should be buying Polidori instead of somebody else. The funnest thing that I think when I’m not so shy, is to go to the grocery store. Like, for example, this weekend, I went to the grocery store, and I always love to see how our stuff is displayed. And my core retail team is like, she’s sending it back. She’s sending an email. What is our broker not doing right? But there was a gentleman and he was standing in front of we have a promotion, 2 for 7 hatch green chili at the grocery store right now. And he was just looking at the case. And I just did one of these, I looked over and I’m like, oh, my God, that stuff is the best, you’ve got and try it. He goes, everything has hatch in it. I’ve got my tortillas with hatch in it. And he ended up picking up a package of that. I walked away. And then later on in the grocery store, he was pushing his cart, and I could see he had it. And he goes, look, I got it. And I said, thank you. I’m Melody Polidori. And you’re supporting my company. My brother and I own an operate the company. So that’s an impression that you make, but I hate to go to the grocery store all the time and bug people about what they got in their cart.
Neil Dudley: Well, but I bet you’ve spent quite a bit of time doing that when you’re digging it out of the dirt. You’re talking about hauling cases in the front door, I’ve been there, I’ve done that. I mean, most of our competitors have been there and done that. I mean, so it’s partly the reason to have the conversation. You just painted it no better than I could have, I mean, better than I could have. Not no better. That doesn’t make sense. It’s like a double negative. What I’m trying to say is, you said like when somebody buys these products with these local companies, and it can be argued even for national companies, there’s a spider web of good that does with the employees, with people that work at the insurance company, at the corrugate company, that’s just so true. It really is fun doing that in the store, though. I’ve done it a time or two. Somebody’s got that Applegate package of bacon picked it up, they’re about to put it in their cart, I’m like, no, don’t do that. Get this one. And then we talk for a little bit, they do it, and then I kind of try to watch him. If they get up there close to the register, I try to go buy it for them. Just like because they’ll do that- Look, it’s embarrassing and scary, too, especially with this cowboy hat and my personality, they might just say, oh crap, I’m putting that in there and am just going to set it down somewhere else just to get this guy away from me. And that’s certainly happened. But it’s just a way, you’re totally right, to think about always make- one person at a time is good enough. Marketing, you think about it as I’m trying to get a million followers, a billion, whatever, a big number is better. I don’t know, I kind of like one at a time in a real memorable way.
Melodie Harris: Everybody can pay for followers, and our marketing director has a real strong opinion on growing our followers organically. They want to follow you and they want to see what you’re doing. And the funnest thing is to get emails back from people and we get a few every week, applauding and praising, and then occasionally you get one that isn’t necessarily favorable about something, but we touch and respond to everything that comes through.
Neil Dudley: All right, so I think you’ve kind of done this, but I’d love to hear right now just tell a consumer that is thinking about buying sausage later today or whenever they’re listening to this, why they should pick up Polidori kind of all in a cohesive thing. It’s been throughout this whole conversation but I’m kind of trying to steal a little bit of education here for myself because I got a feeling you’ve got a really good way of telling somebody this and then if I can plug that into my brain, then I’m like, okay cool, I can add that, maybe that style, maybe that little bit of that wording to how I would tell somebody about Pederson’s. So, hit me.
Melodie Harris: Pork, salt, spices, period. Yum. That’s definitely one way. The other way is we love to sell on yield. On yield. That’s probably more of a food service side but even on the retail side, you want to go pick up that chub from ABC National Company and cook up ours side by side. I mean, we’re selling one pound packages on your friends, you might get half back and you’re getting 72%, 82% back on ours.
Neil Dudley: Yes, I love that.
Melodie Harris: So we love to sell on yield. And that really makes sense in foodservice especially with-
Steve Polidori: -higher price but get your yield, your numbers and you can figure out that, you know what, its maybe a little higher price, it’s because we’re putting real meat in there. Not a bunch of fat in there.
Neil Dudley: Or water.
Melodie Harris: Or we are selling a one pound package, so to the consumer, it looks like it costs more, but we’re really not because that package is $6, and it’s only 12 ounces or 14 ounces.
Neil Dudley: We play that game, you’re stepping on my toes a little bit, but it’s not really stepping on my toes. It’s just an honest truth, we sell a 10 ounce pack of bacon. A pound is kind of this standard thing or at least has been for a lot of years in a sausage chub, a pack of bacon, etc. So as you’re trying to keep your business alive, and you’re thinking about these things, those are real pieces of information I want consumers to pay attention to. And I love that you’re mentioning yield.
Steve Polidori: Sizes have gone down.
Neil Dudley: Yeah, remember when you get used to get-
Melodie Harris: -this year’s bottle and they’re smaller for the same price.
Neil Dudley: You used to get a Snickers bar that was that big, now, it’s- Not that Snicker bars are the best thing to go be eating, but it makes a pretty good illustration. Well, potato chips do it. I think consumers, just pay attention to pack size when you’re really out there shopping and trying to make good buying decisions for your family or whatever you’re doing. Just that yield is important. You could buy a pound of sausage that’s half fat. You end up with half a pound of meat. You buy a pound of sausage that’s 80% meat, you actually end up with more food for your money.
Steve Polidori: Better for you, too.
Neil Dudley: Yeah, that’s right. Okay, that’s about 30 minutes. I know y’all are busy. I appreciate you doing that, doing that, doing this, having this conversation. I don’t want to leave without giving you a chance to say or plug any one thing you’re up to. Is there some charitable stuff y’all like to support? Is there any kind of new product? There’s a good chance we’ll have buyers at grocery stores, buyers at foodservice places hearing this conversation. So it’s not a Pederson’s commercial, it’s more of a Polidori commercial.
Melodie Harris: Well, definitely one of the things that we have been working on the past year, and really in my brother’s wheelhouse, he really excels and exceeds in this department, is we’ve developed a plant-based sausage, which is really difficult, which has really been challenging for us. Imagine being the walls of a sausage company where you taste pork and eat pork nearly every day. And we had some very reputable multi unit customers ask us for a plant based. And my brother has been working closely with a couple of consultants and PhD folks nailing down that recipe and keeping it clean, which is-
Steve Polidori: They will be able to read the ingredient label and not wonder what is in there. It is a clean label, handmade sausage.
Melodie Harris: Yeah. So we’ve been developing that. It’s nearly ready to launch. We just finished shelf life testing on that. And we’re just doing some trial runs. And we’re ready to launch with that. So that’s probably the newest and different thing. We’re also doing some linguisa and some chicken apple sausage. So, we continue to be innovative, we believe, while staying true to the products that have gotten us to where we are today.
Neil Dudley: That seems to be the only way to do it. I mean, you have to innovate, you have to come up with things. I’m curious, with this plant-based thing, I guess it’s kind of a stupid question. You must believe it’s going to survive and be around.
Melodie Harris: We don’t know.
Steve Polidori: We don’t know. But when you have a customer the size that we’re talking about asking for us to produce something for them because they know that we’re going to do a clean label for them, we’re not going to put all the junk in, it’s kind of flattering, I guess.
Melodie Harris: Yeah. And it’s been fun. It’s been fun. We don’t know.
Neil Dudley: There’s education there either way.
Melodie Harris: Well, that’s right. And what we do believe at the end of the day, it will launch it on foodservice first, retail to be determined, but what we do believe at the end of the day is it rounds out our product line. Value added.
Neil Dudley: I would like the vegans to consider this, and really, it’s not me trying to be snarky or anything, this is just a genuine, honest thought I had, who better to develop the plant-based sausage or alternative to meat than a meat company? Who better? So, I think you got to really take that into consideration when you’re out there shopping, I’m not a vegan. I’m not a vegetarian. I swore that I’m going to try it for a while just so I could say I’ve had the experience but I have not accomplished that. So I can’t speak in a very educated way about their expectations or what really is- But I do think logically, sensibly, a high quality meat company makes a really good solution for figuring that out.
Melodie Harris: And we’re selling them breakfast sausage and chorizo and that type of thing. And if they want to round out their menu items with a with a plant-based product, then we want to be that person.
Steve Polidori: We’re not going to make a ton off of it because there’s not that much volume with it. But it’s for our customers.
Neil Dudley: It’s partnership. That is partnership. That’s business. Thank you so much. This is awesome. Everybody, go check out Polidori. Buy it next time you have a chance. I will promise you, you’re not going to be disappointed. And if you are, I’ll bet these two will make it right. So, it’s just that’s how businesses work. Like I can’t promise everybody they would not be disappointed in a Pederson’s product ever. Sometimes they have a broke seal, sometimes something happens. But we’ll stand behind it. We’ll make it right. We’ll do everything we can to remedy that bad experience because we want you to give us another try.
Melodie Harris: We really appreciated the partnership with you guys.
Neil Dudley: All right, good deal. That’s that. That’s how you podcast. Thanks, everybody for listening.
Melodie Harris: Thanks, Neil, have a great Monday.
Visit us online: www.PedersonsFarms.com
(1:22) – Introductions
(3:11) – The work that goes into building a company focused on sustainability
(8:43) – What’s it like working together as siblings?
(12:17) – How did you evolve out of being a mom & pop business
(17:00) – How do you approach your marketing efforts?
(24:19) – Why should consumers choose your product?
(27:50) – Are there any new products you have coming out?
(29:57) – How confident are you in your plant-based sausages?
(32:02) – Wrap up
The Pederson’s Farms podcast is produced by Johnny Podcasts & Root and Roam.