Penguin Meat Supply Ltd.: Beefing Up Profits in British Columbia

First, let’s get this out of the way: Penguin Meat Supply Ltd. does not sell penguin meat. The company, which has been operated by the Michaluk family since 1964, processes and distributes just about every other kind of meat, however – including beef, pork, chicken, turkey, lamb, bison, veal, goat, sausage and more – and distributes product throughout British Columbia to the tune of $20 million a year.
The company’s lone retail location in White Rock, British Columbia, 48 kilometres south of Vancouver, does brisk business. It’s the nerve center of the company, housing Penguin Meat's offices and offering weekly meat specials. The wholesale operation, which started in 1969 to supply grocers and other retail outlets, operates out of a cold storage location about 21 kilometres away in Langley, British Columbia, and provides Penguin Meat with its distribution hub.
Birds of a Feather
Penguin Meat Supply is family business, with Vic Michaluk as the current owner and president. But the family environment is not restricted to blood relatives. The entire company operates as a tight-knit team, consisting of seven administrative staff 27 wholesale staff and 17 retail staff.
General manager David “Dave” Andrews has been with the company since 1969, save for a  brief stint away in the '80s. He touts Penguin Meat's family atmosphere and philosophy of dedicated service as the prime ingredient in its success. “We treat our employees like we treat our customers,” says Andrews. “And we treat our customers like family.” Of the company approximately 50 employees, several have been with Penguin Meat for more than 35 years. Together, they make the retail and wholesale operations a tasty success.
Admittedly, the world economy has posed some challenges to businesses, but people still need to eat and they still definitely want meat. “The downturn in the economy hasn’t hurt us so much,” details Andrews. “The guys that supply restaurants were hurt, but we were well-positioned.” A decline in restaurant patronage means more supermarket shopping and at-home dining, which is good for Penguin Meat's bottom line.
And, no matter what tastes of the moment are, Penguin Meat has a product to meet demand, whether its for a single retail customer, bulk in-home sales or for wholesale. The amount of company products is staggering and includes full sides, whole animals, at least nine different kinds of sausages, free-range, halal, kosher, a vast array of smoked items, and more, adding up to a lot of meat being distributed throughout British Columbia in the company’s familiar green and white trucks.
Penguin Meats maintains its position as a major supplier in the province by responding to market shifts. Consumers have, over the years, demanded more accountability in the area of food processing. Penguin Meat has met this challenge by keeping pace with the gradual industry transition toward providing healthier choices such as hormone-free beef and organic meats. “People are getting more health conscious,” confirms Andrews. “We do a lot of fresh poultry that is free-range and almost non-medicated.”
A Positive Fattening Up
Finding people to enjoy Penguin Meat products hasn't been the company's biggest challenge. The largest hurdle for the company has actually been finding qualified people to work in the meat industry, according to Andrew. Labor costs are huge, he bemoans, as is the expense of distribution. To trim the fat from the budget, and ensure Penguin Meat is providing the best quality meat, the company does its own processing. Anything Penguin Meat subs out, such as meat smoking, for example, tends to be to a longterm, known partner that provides reliable quality. Penguin Meat cuts as much extraneous cost out of the picture as possible, but never sacrifices the quality of its product. Packaging, Andrews says, is especially cost-driven, and the company is always looking to keep that cost down so it can transfer savings on to the consumer.
Fueled by optimism and an understanding of the market, the company, which celebrates its 47th anniversary in October 2010, is at a crossroads. “We’re going to need to grow in the very near future,” shares Andrews. He anticipates a few growing pains, especially since there is no clear-cut succession plan for the family business. Still, that doesn’t worry him too much. In fact, the only time Andrews stresses, he says, is around the big holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas. “Four semi trailers of turkeys is a heavy load!” he laughs.
Supplying so much meat is no joke. But Andrews isn’t sweating the future. “Once the American economy picks up, it will pick up ours,” he says knowingly. He sees things getting better, even if an economic full recovery will take a couple more years. In the meantime, Penguin Meat Supply Ltd. is going strong, and growing organically at its own pace.