Northern Colorado company quietly stands as one of the largest corned beef producers in the world
March 14, 2012
Producing more than 10 million pounds of corned beef per year may sound like a lot – and it should.
That level of output would rank a company as one of the three largest producers of the salt-cured meat on the planet – if not the largest.
“And to the surprise of some people, that’s taking place right here in Greeley,” said Dan LaFleur, the vice president of operations at Colorado Premium, located in an inconspicuous facility facing east along 2nd Avenue near U.S. 85.
The 14-year-old company – established by former ConAgra executives Don Babcock and Kevin LaFleur, Dan’s father – first started producing corned beef about nine years ago.
And today – sitting across the highway from what will eventually be one of the largest cheese-processing plants on Earth (Leprino Foods), and down the road from one of the biggest beef packers on the planet (JBS USA), Colorado Premium has taken its own high place in world food-production rankings, doing so in a community well-known for large operations.
Corned beef production at Colorado Premium usually kicks into gear in the late summer and goes through early spring, peaking about this time of the year – just around St. Patrick’s Day. In the U.S. and Canada, consumption of corned beef is often associated with the holiday.
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During its corned beef production season, Colorado Premium puts out about 60,000 per day.
The company cuts meat into corned beef and packages it for about 50 brands – each one with its own spice profile and other specifications. Colorado Premium produces its own brand of corned beef, as well.
With so much co-packaging taking place among corned beef retailers and producers, it’s difficult to gauge exactly where Colorado Premium ranks in world production. However, LaFleur said the local business easily ranks in the top three, if not at the top.
Because of the business’ success with that meat, company officials have had to get creative during recent years in how it manages operations at the facility as it has grown rapidly.
Dan LaFleur and Vice President of Human Resources and Safety Ginny Hogan – the daughter of Don Babcock – said they can remember when the facility needed only about a dozen employees in 1998, back when the business was trimming a variety of meat cuts and packing them for various companies.
Today the facility has about 300 employees operating around the clock with two shifts of production and one for sanitation.
“Business has definitely been good, but we’ve spent some long hours figuring out ways to keep operating in this building,” LaFleur said, noting that the company recently added a 2,500-square-foot office area. “We’re certainly due for some expansion at this point.
“There’s no plans set in stone – whether we’ll add on to this facility, or buy another and expand there – but we’re getting very close to outgrowing what we have here.”
And it isn’t just the company’s corned beef production that’s taken off in recent years.
The company began trimming and packaging steaks in 2008, and is now doing so for some major players in the food-service industry, such as Ruby Tuesday, Lone Star Steakhouse, Carlson Restaurants – which includes T.G.I. Friday’s – and for Brinker International Restaurants – the parent company of Chili’s and Maggiano’s Little Italy.
Colorado Premium produces about 3 million pounds of steak per year.
The meat that comes into Colorado Premium and is cut and packaged into corned beef and steaks comes from the large beef packers in the area, such as JBS and Cargill.
“Our fathers were beef guys who knew the industry and set out to build a successful business … and they’ve definitely done it,” Hogan said of the two men who started Colorado Premium and are still co-owners of the operation.
“It was a business move that’s really worked out well for the company,” LaFleur added. “The numbers made sense back then to make the move, and it’s still working out well for us.”