2020: COVID-19 and the Evolution of the Small Processor

Chris Young, AAMP Executive Director

I think it’s safe to say that 2020 did not turn out the way many small processors had planned, both personally and professionally.

You may be familiar with the phrase, “in like a lion, out like a lamb.” As many processors began the year with specific business goals and deadlines, the nation was hit hard by the onset of the Coronavirus or COVID-19. COVID-19 came in like a lion in early March; we are still waiting for it to become a lamb and make its exit. Little did we know how much it would transform things for business and the industry as a whole.

No one could have predicted the longevity of dealing with COVID-19 or just how much it would impact our day-to-day lives. It has been interesting to observe our members as they have worked to navigate through the minefield of ever-changing CDC guidance and diligently working to operate their businesses safely. This challenge was no easy task as many faced high demand for their products and services during this time.

Business model changes
No matter where you stand on dealing with the virus, adjustments had to be made in how you conducted your business. We have seen some good things come from those changes; some of them may become a new and permanent way of doing business. Examples I have seen is closing a retail shop and doing curbside pick-up only, taking orders on the phone, or developing an online ordering system. Small processors have found ways to accomplish these things in their unique way as each business and customer base is slightly different from others.

Increased workloads
Our members have been working overtime to protect their employees, but also working long hours to keep up with the demand from their new and returning customers. There is also the slaughter and processing madness that ensued as the big players in the industry started to shut down. Trying to figure out how to slaughter and process more animals without overworking yourself or your employees is a great challenge. Many slaughter facilities are booking kills into late 2021 and even into 2022.

I have heard from many who have made the difficult decision to remove wild game processing this year, which would have been unheard of in previous years. Many processors relied on that infusion of cash to buy a much-needed piece of equipment or meet other needs in their business; however, I believe that the small processor will benefit for years to come from the new customer base founded during these difficult times.

Virtual business
It has been a big year of change for our supplier members as well. They have not been able to travel and visit plants during this time, which has made it difficult for businesses, especially when trying to recruit new customers. Luckily, they have figured out new and creative ways to reach out to their customers and showcase their products and services, such as through virtual trade shows and other online efforts.

There is a lot of business being done virtually for both processors and suppliers now; I am sure some of that will stay in place as we look back and evaluate its effectiveness.

Meeting the challenge
During these difficult times, the small processor met and overcame every challenge they faced. I believe that the resiliency and ability to acclimate and adapt to new changes is what makes our association and its members so great.

I have only scratched the surface of the way business has evolved for our members. It has been a challenging year for all of us; however, if we remain flexible and remain willing to adapt to the changes, 2020 will go down as one of the best years yet for the industry and the small processor.