Hampton Meats working at capacity to help farmers sell their own beef
- By CHRIS ALDRIDGE
- Kentucky Agricultural News
Justin Hampton didn’t grow up planning to succeed his father as head of his family’s 45-year-old business. Justin initially struck out on his own, selling medical equipment and then owning his own business, before returning to his hometown of Hopkinsville as the second generation to lead Hampton Meats, which is just a year older than him.
“I spent some time in the white collar world,” Justin said, “before I decided to come home and try to make an impact with our family business.” The coronavirus outbreak has made it harder for Justin to find and retain good employees. But he thinks the situation will end up benefitting many Kentucky beef producers.
“Who knows what’s going to happen in the fall, but some of the (buying) patterns will definitely change after this, which is better for the small producer out there,” Justin said. “We’re not seeing the coronavirus going away anytime soon, so that will give people more time to buy local.”
Justin says once consumers try local beef, some of them never go back to the meat counter at their local grocery store. “It has a bolder flavor,” Justin said. “Once you try it, you’re not going to want normal commodity packer beef anymore.” Supplying enough of that local beef to meet increasing demand is the problem. Like most small processors, Hampton Meats caters to small beef producers, processing meat for direct sales to consumers.
“That’s the majority of our business,” Justin said. “They have to take their cattle to a USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected) facility to be able to sell their product.”
A shortage of beef this spring at retail stores made direct-to-consumer sales more popular than ever. “The media made it out to be a food shortage, but it was really a labor shortage,” Justin explained. “It became a shortage of meat because of people not showing up for work.
“It’s upsetting when you can’t find enough labor,” he added. “It’s extremely challenging finding motivated people – we need more good people – and the virus just enhanced the issue even more.”
This time of year, Hampton Meats is usually booked 60-90 days in advance. This year, however, it has business lined up for the next five months, making it next year before it can accept any new customers. Hampton is currently slaughtering 60-80 head of cattle per week.
“That’s about all we can handle,” Justin said. “I’m trying to take this business to the next level, but you’re only as good as your people. It all goes back to, ‘Can you find the labor force to do what you need to do?’
“We’ve got our tentacles out into five or six surrounding counties,” he added, noting Hampton needs about 15 more employees in addition to its current 35. “We’ve got to make it worthwhile for people to make the drive here.”
At its July meeting, the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board (KADB) approved Hampton Meats for up to $37,500 in state funds to upgrade refrigeration space and boning areas due to the high demand for processing.
“I recently had the opportunity to visit Hampton Meats and was impressed by the way they’ve adapted to incorporate public health guidelines into their business to protect their employees and their community,” Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Dr. Ryan Quarles said.
“Hampton Meats is a great example of how Kentucky farm families and farm businesses are working hard to keep consumers fed,” Commissioner Quarles added. “The Hampton family knows how important it is to expand local processing capacity to make sure our farmers have a market for their product.”
The KADB also approved more than $300,000 in state funds in July to help three other Kentucky meat processing operations keep up with growing demand – Marksbury Farm Foods ($250,000 forgivable loan) in Garrard County, Garrison Meat Processing ($37,500) in Lewis County, and Wise Meat Packing ($24,375) in Taylor County.
Hampton Meats was established in 1975 by Justin’s father, Ernie, and grandfather, E.G. “Bummy” Hampton, who owned a grain elevator before he sold it in 1968. “My grandfather had the idea, but my father built this business,” Justin said. “I think we enhanced the movement to let people know where their food comes from.”