Our Owners’ Purchasing Preferences
by Lynn Olson, Cooperative Services Manager
The Co-op strives to provide food for people of all economic levels. While our preference is always for local, natural and organic, we sometimes receive member requests to offer a lower-priced conventional alternative to suit their buying needs. One such product is Stoddard’s Country Grove-brand meat. We are able to offer these meats at a low price in part because of the volume involved; Stoddard’s (a meat processor, not a farm) receives its meat primarily from larger distributors based in Nebraska.
You may recognize him as the man behind the grill at the Willy Street Co-op Annual Membership Meetings slingin’ brats and coordinating a staff of helpers to feed our hungry owners. But Jerry Stoddard doesn’t just cook the meat brats served each year, he also creates each recipe for the many sausages made by his company, Stoddard’s Country Grove Market in Cottage Grove.
In 1991, after working for and learning from other caterers, Jerry bought the former butcher shop with the intent to create his own catering business. Though he still enjoys catering, Jerry admits that his focus has shifted to the meat wholesaling side of the operation as a means to preserve more time for his growing children (ages 14, 11 and 9) and their active school and sports schedules.
The Stoddard Country Grove Market facility includes a retail butcher shop and a State-inspected meat processing facility within their 5,400 square foot building. Jerry and a staff of four full-time employees and four to five part-time employees manage all of the carving, curing and packaging for the storefront and a growing list of retailers in and around the Madison area including Willy Street Co-op.
According to state protocol for meat processors, Stoddard’s utilizes a rigorous HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) plan to ensure that each of their many beef, pork, poultry and specialty meats are safe for consumers. Times and temperatures are consistently recorded throughout the raw meat handling process.
Jerry says a typical day of production in the shop begins with each shift conducting a thorough pre-cleaning of the cutting room and equipment before beginning with the beef operation. Starting with racks of meat (fresh, pre-cut, vacuum-packed sections of animal) from national distributors, Stoddard’s butchers begin carving each rack into individual portions for sale. Once they’re finished processing all beef products for the day, another thorough cleaning is performed to prevent cross-contamination, and the butchers begin working on all of the pork products for the day. These steps are repeated again for poultry and all of their State-inspected operations. At the end of each shift, one final systematic cleaning finishes the safe meat handling protocols.
In the classic butcher shop storefront, with fresh meat cases and coolers of prepared sausages and smoked meats, one countertop is covered in thank you letters from area schools and civic organizations who received support from Jerry, and a State Fair picture of a young farmer and a fully-grown steer. The note attached thanks Jerry for recently purchasing his animal at the Dane County Fair’s Meat Animal Sale. Attending the annual event this summer, Jerry’s 14-year-old son urged him to buy the steer from a friend who had raised the animal from infancy as part of a 4-H project. The auction at the Fair plays an important role in supporting young farmers who earn better-than-market prices for their animals to support and finance future farming projects or help with college expenses. This year, Jerry bought two beef cattle and two pigs from young area farmers.
Jerry takes pride in the fact that he uses no artificial flavor enhancers (MSG) in any of his recipes and refrains from using corn syrup solids as many sausage makers do.
Stoddard’s does use an FDA-regulated amount of nitrites to maintain the color of the meat in their sausages and to prevent harmful bacteria from forming.
Providing quality and affordable foods has always been a main goal at the Co-op and that commitment holds true for fresh meats as well. Addressing the needs of a wide group of consumers is a universal challenge for every grocery cooperative. For consumers, making the decision to purchase organic foods may still be a luxury or pose a financial sacrifice for some. However, to provide for our owners who choose to purchase conventionally produced foods from their Co-op versus having to go elsewhere, we have continued to seek local and economical purveyors of these products.
Jerry Stoddard has continued to honor his commitment to deliver fresh meats to our store three times each week and has carefully maintained steadily low prices on his conventionally raised meats. The Co-op features Stoddard’s ground beef and tenderloins, and several of Stoddard’s brats have become popular among shoppers who may have sampled them first at a Mallards game, where they reign supreme as the “official brat” of Madison’s Summer Collegiate Baseball Association (SCBA) team.
A native of Monona, Jerry and his family have stayed close to their hometown roots and values, which Jerry carries over into his business philosophy. Having a long-term business association with Jerry, one cannot deny that his honesty and integrity are admirable as a producer who understands that he may not be all things to all people, especially his critics. Jerry said it best when he commented, “I understand people have different views as far as where their meat comes from natural, organic, feedlot-raised. But what it boils down to is, we provide a product and a service for the Co-op [for] people who don’t have the money to spend on organic, that allows them to buy good, quality meat, support the local Co-op and at a fair price. And that’s what we do.”
We are dedicated to serving our owners, and our owners encompass a wide variety of sometimes contradictory requests. As long as at least a portion of our owners choose to continue buying conventional products, or ones with corn syrup, or trans fats‚ and a natural option is not available, economically viable and/or preferred‚we will continue to sell them. It is our responsibility to educate our members about the food we sell, but it is our owners’ purchasing preferences that determine if we’ll continue to sell it.
Stoddard’s meat products are available in the Co-op’s refrigerated meat section. Special orders are available by calling Cory in the meat department at 251-6776.
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