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Burger's experiences 20 percent growth

Burger's experiences 20 percent growth

April 25th, 2018 by Michelle Brooks in Local News
Steven Burger

Steven Burger

Photo by California Democrat

The real growth experienced in the past year by Burger's Smokehouse exceeds its totals from 1985.

That translates into 20 percent growth over the previous year — adding 70 new jobs for a current total of about 270.

"It was the confluence of a lot of factors; but 20 percent is phenomenal growth for a small company like us," President Steven Burger said.

Such monumental increases in a short time have not been seen since the company's early days with Edwin Burger.

The company's patriarch started by selling three hams, simply to pay for his children's clothing, according to a 1968 St. Louis Post-Dispatch story. The next year, he sold a dozen. And it kept growing.

In 1952, the company was selling about 1,000 cured hams a year. And in 1968, they reached 72,000.

This year, Burger's generated about 600,000 — about 25 percent of the national market share.

"To accommodate that growth, it took expanding infrastructure," Burger said.

The single lane road in and out of the rural location is in the process of expanding to two lanes, allowing easier employee, visitor and tractor-trailer truck access.

Greater refrigeration needs were addressed, as well as the smokehouse capacity and other equipment concerns, he said.

A sizable building expansion was completed early this year, providing additional space for curing country hams and storage.

And, in May, the business will roll out an improved website platform.

They project to grow as much as 10 percent again in the coming year, by deliberate moves on the company's part and unusual circumstances, he noted.

Most of the country ham industry is operated by similar family-owned operations, Burger said. In the past two years, two other ham businesses were devastated by fire, sending much of their business to Burgers.

The local company also benefited when another ham business went in a different direction, opening the door for Burger's to take on 100 percent of the sugar-cured ham product for a national food service chain.

And, Burger's opened a second facility in Springfield in March. Located in an underground cave, Burger noted the slicing facility, which employs about 25, benefits greatly from the 55-degree environment.

About a decade before the recession, Burger's operated a second location in Bonne Terre. So opening a second site, again, was less of a concern.

"It's a challenge to have an off-site location," he said. But, "it alleviates bottle necks and provides access to a larger labor market.

"It paves the way for additional growth."

Part of the reason for a second site was a mismatch, locally, of a tight labor market and growth potential, Burger said.

"Overall, I think we're better off too have low unemployment and job opportunities than easy access to those who may be underemployed or unemployed," he said.

Burger's has "unspecified" growth planned in its next five years, Burger said. That includes increased production at both locations, as well as more jobs.

"We were able to respond, because we have such a strong team that's growth-oriented," Burger said. "And our company was financially strong, so we were able to make the investments to do so."

Although growth was welcome, it was "a real challenge keeping up," Burger admitted. "It was a race to the end of the year to make sure we could produce all of what we had taken on in new business."

He praised the employees for their efforts in making the company's challenges become successes. That meant a lot of Saturday shifts through the beginning of 2018 to keep up, he noted.

"We thank them for their extraordinary efforts to help this company keep up with business demands."

This year, "we plan to grow, but also, we'll be catching our breath from last year's growth spurt."