A cut above the rest – Strauss Veal

Strauss brothers target end-users with case-ready veal products
Walk along the meat counter of any grocery store and you’ll see plenty of beef, chicken and pork. The veal selections, however, probably won’t catch your eye. That is, if the grocer even has any veal displayed.
Randy and Tim Strauss are out to change all that. And in the process, they’re changing the way their 62-year-old Franklin-based Strauss Veal is doing business – and, possibly, how the entire meat industry does business.
Strauss who?
Unless you’ve seen its logo on an upscale restaurant’s menu, or have seen a semi-trailer with the words “Strauss Veal” emblazoned upon it heading down I-94, you might not have known of the firm, or that it’s in the top-three in volume among the nation’s 17 veal processors. Since its founding in 1937, Strauss Veal has been a low-key operation, originally operating out of Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley and then relocating to South 60th Street, just south of Ryan Road, in Franklin.
“We’ve been a low-key business. But now we need to be more consumer-oriented,” says 33-year-old Randy Strauss, who with his brother Tim, 31, serves as co-president of the family-owned firm.
That change in direction is being carried out through this month’s introduction of case-ready veal products, complemented by a private-label line of gourmet sauces.
“Our new product line will revolutionize how veal is perceived and used,” Tim Strauss says. “We’re making it simple and convenient for anyone to prepare a delicious meal with veal by including cooking directions on our packaging, and offering the best-tasting ready-to-use sauces available.”
It’s an entirely different focus than their grandfather Milton Strauss had for the company in its early days. But it’s also a natural progression, note the younger Strausses, who are in the process of taking ownership of the 100-employee firm from their father Richard Strauss.
When Milton Strauss ran the firm, his customers primarily bought dressed carcasses. The local meat market or grocery store butcher would then cut up a carcass, displaying various cuts in his meat case.
By the time Richard Strauss was running Strauss Veal, buyers were asking for parts of the carcass, which they would then divide.
Now, portion control is the name of the game, with buyers, particularly restaurants, wanting individually-packaged servings of veal rather than, say, a veal leg.
“No one but us has to do anything now,” says Randy, whose first job with the firm was unloading calves. “We do more cutting than in the past. It makes it a lot easier for the restaurants. No one has to do anything but us.”
And now, the Strauss brothers hope, grocery-store owners will enjoy that same convenience. The Strausses say there’s an incentive for the stores to carry the case-ready products. Meat that’s cut up, wrapped and displayed at the local store has a shelf-life of two to three days, and it’s labor-intensive. The case-ready Strauss Veal products, however, have a shelf-life of 21 days, due to the way the product is handled at the Franklin plant and how the portions are hermetically sealed.
“The grocer doesn’t have to worry about taking a loss on reduced-priced meat that’s at the must-sell date,” Tim Strauss says. “He doesn’t have to worry about turning a $7 meat sale into a $2 sale.”
And consumers will be demanding more of the type of product, the brothers believe.
“We seen an incredibly rising demand for meat that is not cut at the store,” Randy says, noting consumers’ fears of foods which might become contaminated. “The question is, How do we present it?”
How they are presenting it is both upscale and consumer-friendly. While the black-and-red packaging is intended to position the meat in an elegant fashion and to make the product stand out among the myriad offerings in meat cases, the step-by-step cooking directions, seasoning tips and accompaniment suggestions are intended to make the products appealing to anyone.
“Veal is an anonymous item,” Tim says. “If it’s not on your grocery list, you don’t see it in the meat case. People don’t even know it’s there; we’re out to change that. With our case-ready products, you’re sure to see it. Will you buy it? Maybe. The chances are now better than before that you will.”
The products include osso buco, chops, scaloppini, shoulder steaks, stew and ground veal. To complement those cuts, the Strausses are selling masala, tomato basil and picatta sauces.
“Our goal with this new case-ready product line is to dispel certain consumer misconceptions,” Randy says. “We’re doing this to surprise the multitude of home cooks who may never have given a second thought to veal as part of their everyday menu planning. Yes, we want existing veal-consumers to buy more. But we also want others to try it.”
The sauces to accompany the veal are made to the brothers’ specifications. “We eat veal all over the world,” says Tim, noting the firm’s international sales. “We’ve tasted the best recipes, and we feel are sauces reflect the best.”
The venture into case-ready distribution is a “no-lose” proposition, the brothers believe.
In the Milwaukee area, some Pick ‘n’ Save stores, Sendiks and Grasches will be carrying the products initially. And Wal-Mart Supercenters is interested in test-marketing the products in some of its grocery sections.
While Strauss Veal is one of the nation’s largest veal processors – it handles 300 to 500 calves per day – the brothers have also seen market conditions change. As with many other products today, veal is becoming a commodity impacted by competitive market pricing. By creating a branded consumer-ready product, Strauss Veal will be better able to control profit margins.
Along with the sales and marketing that the firm is undertaking, Tim and Randy Strauss expect the new veal products to garner considerable attention in newspaper and magazine food sections, which could further drive demand.
“This will get attention; there’s nothing like this,” Tim says, noting that some of the firm’s client restaurants are already asking for bulk orders of the Strauss sauces.
In their 48,000-square-foot facility in the Franklin Industrial Park, the brothers have created a “clean room” for packaging the case-ready products. That room now includes one packaging machine for modest production volume.
They don’t expect to be using that space for long. “My prediction is that in a year we’ll be breaking ground for an addition to handle this. And that, in two years, we’ll be going 24-hours-a-day on this line of products,” Randy says, noting that the operation is “already busting at the seams.”
The brothers are so confident that the new line will be a success that they are not worrying about allocating resources for its production. Rather, they’re worried about how they will keep up with the expected demand.
“The fear is that so many people will like it so fast that we’ll have to worry about how to handle the demand,” Tim says. Part of that worry concerns the availability of the foreign-made equipment that packages the case-ready meats.

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