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Pandemic forces local meat processors to slice a new plan

Courtesy of Beutler Meats Steve and Barb Beutler standing outside Beutler Meats
DIFFERENT TIMES: Barb and Steve Beutler take just enough time to pose outside their meat processing facility. The pandemic has them working every minute possible due to huge demand for local processing of beef cattle.
Life in the meat business is still hectic but much different during the pandemic.

At the age of 13, Steve Beutler knew he was destined to take over the family business. What he never expected was completely adjusting the way the company operated due to a pandemic.

Beutler’s father opened Beutler Meat Processing in Otterbein, Ind., as a grocery store and locker plant in 1953. After 14 years, the business moved to its current location in Lafayette, Ind., and transitioned its focus to processing meat.

“When I was 13 years old, I would come in during the summertime and help, and just fell in love with the business,” Beutler says. “There was nothing else I wanted to do. This will be my 44th year, and it’s still the passion, even though we have seen some trying times.”

At the start of the pandemic, while most companies struggled to keep their doors open, Beutler Meats struggled to keep up with the growing demand for appointments. To meet customer demand, Beutler Meats was forced to start working at capacity. This meant processing 35 head of cattle five days a week and removing “hog day” all together.

Huge bookings

Like most processing plants today, Beutler Meats was booked out until 2021 in just a few short days after the lockdown was announced in March 2020. It still has about 900 head of cattle on a waiting list.

“It’s intimidating, overwhelming,” Beutler says. “We are running at capacity. We are doing all we can. I’ve hired more employees and more meat cutters. You start trying to push the envelope, and your quality and standards of work and everything else will go downhill.”

Losing the reputation his father and he have built is not something Beutler is willing to compromise. He currently works six days a week to ensure the company stays on track. However, he is not always stuck behind a desk.

“I am a hands-on guy,” Beutler says. “If I walk back there and see something that needs to be done, I jump in and I do it, and I get caught up.”

All employees have a role and tasks, but in these times, Beutler knows some things are destined to get held up. Luckily, he knows every part of the process and can jump in at any point to assist. His versatility is due in part to being in the business for so many years, but Beutler gives most of the credit to his mentors.

“It was special people who taught me,” Beutler says. “My dad’s butchers were the best mentors that I could ever have. These guys would show me everything, and if I did not quite get it, they would say, ‘I’m only going to show you one more time, and you better get it, even though you are the boss’s son.’”

With COVID-19, Beutler cycles through the store every few hours, cleaning doorknobs, phones and the time clock to ensure the safety of his team and the shop. Beutler Meats is not accepting visitors due to the pandemic, including in the shop.

Beutler has developed a no-contact shop. Employees shop for you. “I have to keep my business safe, and I have to keep my employees safe,” he says. “Opening the store would have everyone on edge. Imagine if a customer sneezed.”

As a processing plant, the operation must be inspected thoroughly by USDA. Although the inspector may be the technical boss in this situation, Beutler ensures that he or she follows his safety standards.

“I let them know we have rules and standards here,” he says. “They must be masked up, come in a specific door, do their job and get it done without wandering.”

Other impacts

The pandemic has also forced Beutler Meats to pause its catering business. Beutler loves to cook, especially for other people. Another impact of no gatherings on Beutler Meats is what’s happening with restaurants.

Beutler Meats supplies fresh, locally sourced meat to local Lafayette and West Lafayette hot spots such as Triple X, Harry’s and Igloo Frozen Custard. Although some of these businesses see a slight decline when the college students return home, they’ve never seen a hit like this.

“Delivery has really slowed down,” Beutler says. “Where we used to deliver every week, now they may get a truck every three or four weeks.”

Beutler has worked with businesses like Harry’s for over 40 years, where both owners have built a solid relationship. This is a relationship he hopes his son can carry on.

After graduating from Purdue University with a bachelor’s degree from Krannert School of Business and spending summers at the shop, Beutler’s son will soon be the third generation to join in the family business.

Adams is a senior in agricultural communication at Purdue University.

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