Entrepreneur of the Week: Home Style Foods Reaches Beyond U.S. Borders
For more than a decade, Home Style Foods have provided its loyal customers with quality smoked sausages. Now it plans to diversify and expand beyond U.S. soil.
David Martin wanted a product he could sell.
After working years as a corporate and real estate attorney, Martin chose to bite into the multi-billion dollar meat market.
“I wanted to have a product, practicing law you are the product,” said Martin, a former resident of southwest Atlanta and member of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, across from Peyton Forest Elementary. “My interest was more in developing, marketing and sales than law.”
Now the president and CEO of Home Style Foods L.L.C. wants to take that product international, and he’s starting with Brazil.
The processor and distributor of turkey, pork and chicken smoked sausages as well as turkey sausage patties, the company has been in business since the mid-1990s as Shumake Sausage.
After the death of Martin’s former client and Morehouse College classmate, the late Sen. Hildred Shumake, the company became Home Style Foods.
In 2007, Martin led a group of investors to buy a share of the company, essentially sinking his teeth into an industry that has continued to grow after more than 2,000 years.
“In recent decades the meat industry has changed as chicken and slightly more pork replaced beef in sales,” said Jeremy Russell, spokesman for the National Meat Association. “And in the last two or three years, pork sales has been increasing.”
In 2010, Home Style Foods took in $2 million of the profits.
“The pork sausage business is a multi-billion dollar business,” Martin, 58, said. “We just do a drop.”
Each week the company moves 20,000 to 30,000 pounds of packaged meats to grocery chains such as Kroger, Wayfield, Publix and Food Lion.
Its customers, based mostly in the southeast, often seek the company's best-selling product - its mild Southern Style Premium Smoked Sausage.
Kroger said Home Style Foods products are in 194 of its 214 Atlanta-division stores, which include Georgia, South Carolina, eastern Tennessee and northeast Alabama.
“It’s an item that has some level of popularity with our consumers,” said Glynn Jenkins, spokesman for the Atlanta division.
Now, Martin is ready to take the Stockbridge-based company's products beyond U.S. shores.
Moving Beyond U.S. Borders
“We have been to El Salvador and Guatemala,” Martin said. “We were scheduled to go to China, but they wouldn’t permit our samples because of the outbreak of Swine Flu.”
“Right now we are looking to put it in Brazil. We have put in the paper work.”
Inside an Atlanta hotel, Martin set out to impress a delegation of Brazilian businesspeople brought to the U.S. in 2008 to identify American producers of food products.
Later, his visit to Brazil for a one-on-one gave the meat producer the needed edge.
By translating all of the company’s documentation into Portuguese, Martin and his assistants walked into the room and presented his products to a prospective client.
Martin left satisified. They had made an impression.
With a majority of the world’s population meat eaters, Martin is targeting a clientele that is hungry for quality products beyond the U.S. borders.
“Ours is a better quality with no fillers and water,” Martin said. “Ours is all quality cuts of meat. It’s coarse ground and that gives it a better bite, better consistency.”
Each cut into a slab of sausage and customers will find chunks of meat.
“It’s not chewy like a hot dog. You will be chewing on slices with chunks of meat in it. It’s pork, it’s turkey sausage.”
And it’s no longer, just for breakfast.
Not Just For Breakfast
Sausage is one of the oldest prepared foods in the country and for many families it has served as part of a complete breakfast for centuries.
“It’s food for the soul,” Martin said. “Sausage can be an anytime dish, it’s not restricted to just breakfast.”
Many customers prepare it with dishes such as spaghetti, red beans, gumbo, and casserole, Martin said.
And though, most customers prefer the company’s mild-flavored sausage, there are the brave few.
“I’ve seen people eat it hot and put Tabasco sauce on it," Martin said. "I’ve seen people gasped for breath and grab for water.”
At any time of the day Home Style Foods is constantly looking for ways to serve.
Whether preparing samples for in-store demonstrations or cooking up meals for festivals, community events and sporting events, Martin said he stays abreast of what his customers want.
Recently, Martin and his team visited a Honda Plant in Alabama where they fed 4,000 employees samples of sausage in two different shifts.
Martin said the company has even considered making vegetarian sausages for health-conscious Americans.
“We’ve played with some, black bean base and zucchini base,” Martin said. “We have explored it and we will continue to explore it.”
Still, only one out of 100 customers at food shows has inquired about the vegan meats, Martin said. They get more requests for turkey or chicken.
“People want healthier choices so they are looking for chicken.”
And turkey, said Russell.
“The market has diversified to include specialty items and they are increasing,” Russell said.
Turkey sausage are part of that increasing trend, Russell said.
Home Style Foods is working on introducing smoked chicken sausage links before the year ends, Martin said.
“We do have a new wave of people trying to become health conscious. Pork in and of itself is not, bad but you can’t eat a lot of it.”