In Australia, lamb is king.
Australians absorb added than 15 times as abundant lamb and mutton as Americans absorb annually. In 2018, the US Administration of Agriculture’s Economic Research Account appear lamb and mutton burning in the United States was 1.1 lbs per capita. In the aforementioned time frame, Australians ate 16 lbs of lamb per person, according to Meat & Livestock Australia.
Australia is the second-largest ambassador of sheep meat and the bigger exporter of the proteins – 66% of its absolute lamb assembly was exported in 2018-19, 21.8% of which went to the United States.
But US consumers accept yet to absolutely embrace lamb as a top protein choice.
“Lamb burning has been collapsed in this country,” said Michael Forrest, arch controlling administrator of Thomas Foods International, USA. “But, its assimilation into the bazaar is growing, which will advance to increased consumption.
“Historically, lamb has been a foodservice account – I anticipate because US consumers are alien with the protein…With COVID, and added home affable and home meal subscriptions, added bodies are accepting apparent to lamb than they accept been historically…they are activity added adequate with it than they have previously.”
As a angular chip importer, processor and benefactor of Australian lamb and added proteins, Swedesboro, NJ-based Thomas Foods International, USA is accomplishing its allotment to access lamb burning in the United States.
“We assignment with our retailers to try and advance lamb and accomplish it added user affable to the consumer. For example, we afresh developed a alternation of recipes featuring arena lamb, chops and racks that can be able in beneath 40 minutes, showcasing how lamb is aloof as able and accessible to adapt as beef.”
Thomas Foods International, USA’s American roots can be traced aback to 2010, aback the aggregation started accomplishing business in South Jersey, importing meat from Australia. But its ancestor company, Thomas Foods International, has its origins aback in Australia starting in 1988.
Chris Thomas, a self-described “jackaroo” – an Australian cowboy – spent his aboriginal years trading cattle. In 1988, Thomas abutting armament with a partner, Bob Rowe, to anatomy a business, initially alleged T and R Pastoral, to buy and advertise livestock. The aggregation did arrangement slaughtering at altered accessories in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia for years until it purchased an abattoir in Murray Bridge, South Australia, in 1999.
The aggregation added broadcast with the accretion of added abattoirs about Australia. By 2008, the Thomas ancestors took over ascendancy of the business – it was renamed Thomas Foods International in 2013. At that time, the aggregation was Australia’s bigger family-owned meat processing business, slaughtering 5,000 beasts and 120,000 lambs account at its four accessories around Australia.
Chris’ son, Darren, took the reins to advance the aggregation as CEO in 1993.
As allotment of Thomas Foods’ added expansion, the aggregation formed to abound its exporting business. Seventy percent of the Thomas Foods meat assembly is exported. Today, the aggregation exports to 82 altered all-around destinations, including the United States.
“In exporting, the US was consistently a able market,” Forrest said. “2010 was the year we had boots on the arena in the US marketplace.”
To access the US market, Thomas International partnered with Foodcomm International to anatomy a aliment import, processing and administering business.
“The active force [for the access into the US] was to get added bottomward the bulk alternation and afterpiece to our customers,” Forrest said. “We capital to bigger account a growing bazaar in the US for Australian lamb and beef.”
After a few years of importing articles and application third-party processors to action meat for its customers, Thomas Foods International absitively to booty a added immediate access by architecture its Swedesboro facility.
“We artlessly accomplished we could not accommodate the akin of account we capital for our barter after a processing bulb of our own,” Forrest said. “So, in backward 2012, we absitively to body our own ability in South Jersey. By aboriginal 2014, we started operations. We capital to booty our afterlife into our own easily by architecture our own processing and distribution facility.”
While still beneath the awning of its ancestor aggregation in Australia, Thomas Foods International, USA has a abstracted administering aggregation and structure.
“We assignment carefully with the Australian operations to try and aerate the allowances for our customers,” Forrest said. “As an entity, the US business stands absolute in agreement of its operations – from administering to plant management.”
The new bulb was congenital in Swedesboro, aloof 30 account from the Anchorage of Philadelphia area a ample allocation of US red meat imports are brought in.
“We congenital a ability that we anticipation would booty us 10 years to abound into,” Forrest said. “After 12 months, we accomplished it was activity to be too small.”
The aggregation has connected to add on to its 250,000-square-foot facility, acumen that anon an added bulb will be needed.
“Unfortunately, we are activity to max out and accept to acquisition a new armpit – which is a acceptable botheration to have,” Forrest said. “We can body accession 60,000 aboveboard anxiety at this area afore we will accept to go elsewhere. It is assured that we’ll be attractive for a new assembly armpit in the near future.”
The Swedesboro plant, which is a added than $500 actor a year operation, includes algid storage, processing, packaging, shipping, appointment amplitude and employs added than 400 people. Assembly runs three accouterment – day, night and sanitation – at atomic bristles canicule a week. The barn and administering administration runs three shifts, six canicule a week.
There is currently 50,000 aboveboard anxiety of processing space, with a 20,000-square-foot accession set to be operational in 2021. The algid accumulator allocation of the ability appearance 17,500 temperature-controlled bassinet positions accessible for air-conditioned and frozen storage.
When Thomas International angled into the US market, vertical affiliation was the end goal.
“It was actual abundant about actuality angular chip and capturing that algid alternation from the processing bulb all the way through to our customer’s door,” Forrest said.
Vertical affiliation agency managing every date of the production chain.
“We own our absolute assembly and algid chain,” he said. “The artefact comes through the Anchorage of Philadelphia, we aces it up with our own trucks, carriage it to the facility, unload the containers into our own algid storage, USDA audit it, action it and again bear it ourselves to our customers.”
The aggregation goes to the anchorage every day to aces up accession containers from Australia and about the world. They accept 60 to 100 accession containers – captivation 3 actor to 5 actor lbs of meat – at the bulb per week.
Less than 5% of Thomas Foods’ artefact awash in the United States is candy alfresco of its New Jersey operation. Included in the 5% is Australian lamb that’s awash in a above club retailer. That artefact is candy and packaged, retail-ready, out of one of its Australian plants.
The New Jersey bulb has two abstracted processing apartment – one committed to arena beef processing, the added to acid steaks, chops and added meat cuts. The arena beef allowance appearance four processing curve – two alone for arena beef bricks, the added two are acclimated for patty production.
The new 20,000-square-foot addition, activity online in February, will be a fifth arena beef band for processing arena beef bricks. After it’s operational, the bulb will be processing in balance of 1 actor lbs of arena beef per week.
The additional assembly allowance is area the steaks and chops are cut and packaged – some of which are anchored weight depending on chump requirements.
Included in its band of meat cuts are lamb accept chops, loin chops, leg steaks and arbor chops; pork loin, shoulder, tenderloins and chops; dogie scallopini and Osso Bucco; and a abounding band of beef products.
Each anniversary the bulb processes about 1.4 actor lbs of accomplished case-ready articles that go to retail, foodservice and absolute to chump through cable account companies – added than 50% of which are arena beef products. After the new band is active in 2021, the assembly adequacy will ascend to 2 actor lbs per week.
Thomas Foods utilizes a array of packaging formats for its arena and cut proteins. For arena beef, the aggregation bales in chubs, 1-lb artery in rollstock and area and patties in adapted atmosphere packaging. The bulb has IQF (individually quick frozen) capabilities for use with its patty assembly as well.
For its steaks, chops and added consumer-ready meat cuts, rollstock and MAP are the best accepted packaging formats with some articles actuality packaged in VSP (vacuum skin packaging).
“We are affective into altered packaging formats area there is a big advance to abate some of our use of plastics – we are aggravating to cut bottomward on our brand about the use of non-recyclable plastics,” Forrest said.
More than 90% of the lamb awash out of the Swedesboro ability is sourced from Australia.
“We’re an Australia aggregation – our DNA is absolutely Australian. We are accretion proteins globally to accommodated our customers’ requirements with a abundant camber to our ancestry and origins in Australia,” Forrest said. “One of our strengths is all-around sourcing and importing products.”
More than one-third of the all the articles awash from the New Jersey ability are sourced from the Australia-based ancestor company. The aggregation additionally purchases some lamb from New Zealand and Chile.
“The lamb business gave us the entre here,” Forrest said. “But, the ascent acceptance of grass-fed and amoebic articles absolutely accustomed us to abound our beef division.”
The company’s sales today are 40% beef, 40% lamb and 20% other proteins.
“We accept abounding the grass fed/organic beef alcove with our retail and foodservice barter and that’s area we’ve broadcast the business and area we accomplish actual strongly,” Forrest added. “We see that amoebic is not activity abroad and grass fed continues to abound in popularity, so we anticipate that is absolute for our business.”
Milk-fed dogie is alien from the Netherlands and pork is usually domestically sourced from assorted farms and suppliers in the United States.
Thomas Foods is additionally a Certified Angus Beef (CAB) house, acid and distributing CAB articles to retailers about the country.
“We are primarily a private-label ambassador – 80% or added of our assembly is clandestine label,” Forrest said.
Some of the private-label assembly includes meats for top retailers in the United States.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) communicable has had an appulse on all meat processors about the country, and Thomas Foods is no exception. While the aggregation abhorred above closures or outbreaks, it still had to accomplish adjustments to its assembly facility.
“With a bit of acceptable luck and a baby bulk of active management, we did abstain any above disruptions from COVID,” Forrest said.
In accession to bulb adjustments, the aggregation was affected to accomplish a few changes to its chump mix. Traditionally, Thomas Foods is a 60/40 retail to foodservice operation.
“Due to the pandemic, we saw a alluvion abroad from acceptable foodservice customers. But thankfully we had a bottom in anniversary affected above-mentioned to COVID, we were able to aerate our relationships,” Forrest said.
In April, aback calm orders were accustomed about the country, the aggregation saw an uptick in its retail business. This created a charge to run assembly two accouterment a day for seven canicule a anniversary for a short time.
Alongside calm orders were acting restaurant closures and the assured abridgement in the charge for foodservice products. However, the aggregation was advantageous to about-face the business to new opportunities such as direct-to-consumer.
“We’ve been advantageous to accept abiding relationships with our barter afore the communicable hit; and, we’ve managed to be active and access up production,” he said. “So, we’ve gone from a acceptable foodservice customer, to added direct-to-consumer business. New opportunities accept account the bead in our approved acceptable foodservice business.”
The bulb managed to advance operations during the communicable and continues to accomplish adjustments to the blueprint and procedures on the assembly attic to ensure artisan safety.
“If you go into our processing rooms, there are careful screens agreement the workers and anybody has abounding PPE,” Forrest said.
In addition, a thermal scanner takes everyone’s temperatures as they access the facility. Anything aberrant sounds an anxiety acute the actuality to be arrested added afore actuality able to work.
The company’s investments in artisan assurance precautions go calm with its connected investments in aliment assurance throughout the facility.
“We advised and congenital our processing ability with aliment and artisan assurance in apperception – we get a lot of annotation about the cleanliness and the architecture of our facility,” Forrest said. “Thomas Foods has a able charge to aliment safety, continuously blame our teams to advance the aerial standards we have established.
“Our administration aggregation is committed to be best in chic in how we operate. And, Thomas Foods has a ambition to be accustomed as best in chic for the articles we aftermath and the barter we service.”
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