Processor and retailer, RJ’s Meats, adjusts during pandemic

With 33 years as a family-owned meat processor and retailer, Rick Reams of RJ’s Meats in Hudson, Wisconsin had never experienced anything like COVID-19.

In March when the retail outlet was deemed an essential business, Rick and his team prepared to remain open and keep everyone safe.

“It was a challenge for us just as it has been for everyone,” Rick says. “We immediately briefed all of our employees. We have three phone lines coming into our store and they were ringing off the hook. We always wanted to shift to online orders, but never had the time. This pandemic forced us into it.”

High-contact surfaces are sanitized hourly while customers shop – only eight at a time allowed in the store. Employees are offered disposable masks and gloves for frequent changing. Six-foot social distancing is required at the meat cases and between orange cones for curbside pickup.

“At one time, we were the only local retailer that had ground beef,” recalls Rick. “We had to limit purchases on our products and hamburger was first. Food service vendors provided us with their unused inventory because restaurants were closed. A local meat processor not too far from us has been incredibly generous making sure that we have pork and beef to grind.”

When the store is closed on Sunday, RJ’s outdoor refrigerator meat vending machine known as a Regiomat but nicknamed “Reggie” attracts additional customers. It’s been a regular store front fixture and ideal for these times. Customers make purchases and there’s no interaction with other people.

While RJ’s business hours are down about 25%, overall sales are up 30% over previous years. Of the many products that are top sellers at RJ’s, there are a number of snack stick blends, marinades and pre-blended formulations from Excalibur Seasoning. Some of their customer favorites are Habanero Snack Sticks, Raspberry Chipotle Marinade, Jamaican Jerk Bratwurst, and of course RJ’s own ham & bacon cure and their private blend wiener seasoning.

“We started working with Excalibur Seasoning back in the 1990’s when Bill Dedynski was their on-the-road sales rep for our area,” says Rick. “Bill was incredibly knowledgeable about sausage making. Many times, he would end his sales day and come into the shop. He’d announce that we were going to make a new sausage or he would help me with a recipe that he knew I needed assistance with. Bill and I would make the sausage from start to finish, and he would explain as we went along what we were doing and why we were doing it this way, and how it was beneficial for the sausage and in turn for my business.”

Bill Dedynski has since moved on and retired, but Rick says other sales reps that followed in his footsteps always have the same goal in mind: helping RJ’s provide better products for the consumer.

“RJ’s hot dogs have always been one of our most popular products with a recipe we have been using for decades, but it contained MSG. The last few years, customers were requesting us to remove it. That’s easier said than done, especially with a recipe so popular that our customers know the flavor profile and expected it with every bite.

“Simply removing MSG left a “void” in the flavor. Excalibur was terrific to work with as we tried time and time again with small batches to get the flavor where it had to be without MSG. We were able to do that with their help.

Rick says Excalibur Seasoning has always been responsive to their needs and consistent with results.

“It’s why I continue to do more and more business with them every year.”

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