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In addition to talking to current Hormel employees, Eric Rovang, ’80 (management), retired from Hormel, talked with us about his 36-year career in consumer product sales-meat products. Read an excerpt of his interview at mnstate.edu/Magazine/Profiles.
People estimate that, on average, they make about 15 food- and beverage-related decisions daily. However, you’ve probably made that many food choices within the first hour of waking.
What will you eat for breakfast? Will you eat at all? Will you make something at home or stop at McDonald’s? Will you eat the donuts your co-worker brought? Will you eat at home, in the car or at the office? Will breakfast include juice, tea or coffee? Hot or iced? With, or without, cream and sugar?
You will make more than 200 decisions about food each day, according to a Cornell University study. (Mindless Eating, journals.sagepub.com).
Clearly, food is an essential part of daily life.
Meet the Dragon Foodies
Hormel Foods is passionate about food and your food choices. The 127-year old company is proud of its small-town roots, with its world headquarters in Austin, Minn., pop. 24,718. Yet, this food giant brings its iconic protein products to the world stage. You may be familiar with many of their products but surprised to know they support 54 brands around the world.
We caught up with a few alumni who work at Hormel Foods. Combined, these Dragons have 119 years of service at Hormel.
Heidi (Williams) Akkerman ’04 Dual degree: Chemistry, MSUM; Chemical Engineering, University of North Dakota
Title: Innovation Manager
Robert D. Christiansen ’82 Industrial Technology
Title: Corporate Manager Safety and Security
Brenda (Rosman) Fisher ’86 Mathematics
Title: ADP Systems Manager
Steve Lykken ’92 International Business
Title: President, Jennie-O Turkey Store; Senior Vice President, Hormel Foods
Sam Weikum ’10 Marketing
Title: Associate Brand Manager, Foodservice Marketing
Jacob Zimmerli ’00 Business Administration
Title: Director of Compensation & Human Resource Information Systems
Not So Sexy
Or is it?
When Robert Christiansen graduated during the 1980s farm crisis, he found few employment opportunities in manufacturing. He liked Hormel Foods because “it’s a strong Minnesota company, and people will always need food.”
Jacob Zimmerli had a clear idea of what his career should provide.
“I wanted a successful, stable company on the Fortune 500 with an international footprint that offered advancement opportunities. Secondary to all of that was working in the food industry,” Zimmerli said.
Hormel Foods interviewed Jennie-O Turkey Store CEO Steve Lykken during an MSUM recruiting event.
“It wasn't the sexiest industry per se, but their corporate reputation was quite strong,” he said.
What may surprise many, but not the 20,000+ people across the globe who work for Hormel Foods, is the magnitude of this company’s impact locally, nationally and globally.
Growing up in Austin, Sam Weikum and his family were quite familiar with the company. His first position as sales representative for the foodservice division landed him in Denver, Colo. Each new assignment came with career advancement – Tampa, Fla., Salt Lake City, Utah, and San Francisco, Calif.
“I’ve been fortunate to relocate to these beautiful places and have learned a lot. It’s been great fun,” he said.
A significant strength of this company is its commitment to professional advancement.
“I wanted to shift gears and that’s something Hormel Foods is great about,” Weikum said. “Many marketing roles are filled by people with sales experience because they understand customers.”
His career change required a move to Minnesota when he became the brand manager for four product lines in the foodservice division. He markets to chefs and food service directors at restaurants, hotels, healthcare facilities and universities.
Lykken, who’s worked with the company’s Hormel®, Applegate® and Jennie-O® brands, embraced the growth opportunities.
“Hormel Foods is an organization that gives you the autonomy to create your own success,” Lykken said. “They’ve had a strong promote from within philosophy for decades.”
“There is tremendous opportunity within Hormel Foods,” Christiansen said. Through his production experience, he discovered a passion and talent for developing safety systems and for training employees. He maneuvered his way to the safety field and now oversees all of the company’s safety programs and systems.
“We are recognized as an industry leader in safety with roughly 1,700 people directly involved in safety through various committees,” he said. “My greatest satisfaction is knowing that on a daily basis my policies and programs help people work safely.”
Brenda Fisher settled in Austin with her family. After nine years in Quality Control at the plant, she joined the Compensation department at the corporate office. She feels fortunate to continue building deep roots in the community.
“It was beneficial to me to be in Austin throughout my career and afforded me the opportunity to surround myself with great leaders,” she said.
Originate, don't imitate
George A. Hormel worked in the tannery and meatpacking business for years before founding Geo. A. Hormel & Co. His experience shaped his vision for the company he wanted to create, “instilling values that are still held in high regard. His instruction and vision to ‘originate, don’t imitate’ continues to lead the company’s innovation efforts.” (hormelfoods125.com)
Even in food, innovation drives growth – new products, new flavors, new delivery systems, new packaging – all designed to keep up with ever-changing consumer tastes.
At the forefront of managing innovation is Heidi Akkerman, one of five members of the corporate innovation group charged with bringing new and improved products to market.
The first can of SPAM® came off the production line in 1937.
“We don’t just look at new ideas, but also flavor extensions or new forms of existing products,” she said.
Favorite standbys are often enhanced with bold, new flavors to meet consumer demand. Whether it’s 24 flavors of Hormel® Black Label® bacon, 15 varieties of SPAM® products or 15 flavors of Hormel® chili, the company strives to meet the tastes of consumers. The acquisition of like-minded companies expands its global protein footprint, such as Justin’s® nut butters, SKIPPY® peanut butter products or Lloyd’s® Barbeque items.
Hormel® Rev®, a ready-to-eat wrap sandwich, was one of the first new ideas to emerge from the innovation group in 2013. One of Akkerman’s projects was to develop a natural meat and cheese formula for the existing Hormel® Rev® product and re-launch it under the Hormel® Natural Choice® brand. They also introduced a new product in conjunction called Hormel® Natural Choice® Stacks.
An example of a product extension is SKIPPY® P.B. Bites introduced under the snacking pillar. The bite-size morsels are the first in its category of peanut butter snacks that are portable and nutritious.
“These are a great protein snack for athletes,” Fisher said. “They don’t have a coating – just peanut butter. They are awesome!”
“There’s a lot of collaboration to make product launches successful,” Akkerman said. “We have a great cross-functional team that helps to deliver the goals of each project.”
In Southeast Asia, SPAM® is given as a luxury gift.
“When I first started, Hormel Foods sold a lot of fresh product, to include bacon, ham, hot dogs, pepperoni and canned ham. Very few items were shelf-stable or considered convenience foods,” Fisher said. “The company now produces items that are center of the aisle and offer convenience.”
“One of my favorite items is marinated Hormel® Always Tender® tenderloins. They are a wonderful way to add flavor,” she said.
“One of the benefits of Hormel Foods is we have a wide portfolio of products for any consumer,” Akkerman said.
*Sports enthusiasts enjoy Muscle Milk® products to support muscle recovery
*People with unique dietary needs benefit from Hormel Health Labs, an expansive line of specialty items featuring thickened beverages and pureed food.
*Hormel® Vital Cuisine™ is a line of meals and shakes to meet the needs of cancer patients.
*Justin’s® and Applegate® brands appeal to consumers focusing on natural and organic ingredients.
“Hormel Foods is at the forefront of innovative thought leadership,” Lykken said. “As long as I’ve been with the company, they’ve always focused on quality.”
The marketplace gives consumers many choices of not only what they eat, but where they eat, where they order it from and how they receive it. Lykken cites the emergence of home-delivered meal kits, Whole Foods delivery via Amazon, and the farm to table rage as trends worth watching.
“Mealtime is more emotional, rather than convenience-focused, which dominated food choices the last decade or so,” Lykken said. “Millennials seem more interested in investing in the experience of a wonderful meal, which leads to different choices within the food space.”
Despite the company’s humble beginnings and small-town roots, it is a world leader in food delivery. Its philanthropic efforts focus on hunger relief, education and supporting the local communities in which they operate. The Hormel Foundation supports charitable, educational and scientific organizations, including The Hormel Institute, which is recognized for cutting-edge cancer and obesity research.
The core of any healthy culture is a clearly defined set of values to guide employees on the behaviors and mindsets needed to achieve the company’s vision. A culture shift may fluctuate with the hiring of a new CEO, but the company’s original core values are still celebrated today.
An entire museum (free!) is dedicated to the SPAM® brand in Austin, Minn.
“I remember in the (Hormel) interview getting a feel for the culture of the organization, and quite frankly, it’s why I decided to work for them,” Zimmerli said. Those values are: safety first, results matter, create solutions, grow talent, speak up, build bridges and challenge yourself.
“We work hard on cultural beliefs to ensure people have clarity and alignment around what we are trying to accomplish,” Lykken said. “That’s part of the recipe for success.”
The company’s purpose statement – Inspired People. Inspired Food™ – certainly resonates with the alumni who work there.
“Inspired food is what keeps us relevant and growing as a company. What makes employees stay is inspired people,” Zimmerli said. “They truly see employees as their greatest asset.”
Fisher agrees. “Everybody knows you by name, and that’s really something when you’re talking about this large of a company.”
“My grandpa worked in the Hormel Foods plant facility for 42 years, and it’s always felt like family,” Weikum said. “It’s pretty cool to be a part of a company like this because it’s on the edge of innovation with lots of acquisitions happening. I’m excited each day to see what I’m going to be a part of.” ■