ASHLAND, Ohio — When Russ Chapman came to work for E.R. Boliantz Packing Company in 2013, he knew he had found a unique market.
From the handwritten tags pinned to a cut of meat in the cooler, telling you which farm that meat came from and where it’s going, to owner Bob Boliantz himself working with farmers and hand-picking the cattle that come through his butcher shop, Chapman told Boliantz the meat packing industry doesn’t do things like this anymore — the old-fashioned way.
“He’s spent 40 years building relationships with local farmers,” said Chapman.
When a truck and trailer backs up to the plant, “you can bet Bob spent time picking out those cattle and working with the farmer to get them to his shop.”
Meat managers and merchandisers are pretty far removed from the farm, Boliantz said.
“It’s been a big passion of mine to create those relationships (with farmers) and I think it’s helped our local industry,” he said.
Boliantz’s connection with the farmers that supply him beef is unique for the meat packing industry.
Early on, he developed a relationship with Francis Fluharty to help farmers analyze feed rations and make recommendations that would give them a higher quality beef product.
Fluharty is former researcher at Ohio State University’s Wooster Campus and current head of the Department of Animal and Dairy Science at the University of Georgia.
Once the product has been processed, Boliantz invites the farmers to the cooler to see the final product.
“Not a week goes by that we don’t have a farmer come in,” said Chapman.
Jessica Gordon, Boliantz’s daughter, said 60-70 percent of their product qualifies in the “high choice” and “prime” ranges, according to their USDA reports.
Boliantz said they dry-age and dry-chill beef, which gives the consumer a different eating experience than some of the larger packers in the industry.
“Big packers and feedlots are focused on volume and efficiency,” said Boliantz. “We can’t compete with volume, so we focus on quality and local products.”
Each cut of meat has its own “license plate” — as Chapman refers to it — that identifies the type of cattle and the farm where the cattle was raised.
Boliantz works with around 75 farmers throughout the year, all within a 50- to 60-mile radius of the Ashland, Ohio, company.
And Gordon started a marketing project that features each farmer in a small story on the company website.
Boliantz has a strong connection to the meat industry. His grandparents opened a small butcher shop and grocery in the late 1920s and his father, Emil, opened E.R. Boliantz Packing Company in Mansfield in the mid-40s.
Boliantz said he can remember working for his father, making deliveries around Ashland, until his father sold the business in the ’70s.
The new owner didn’t have a passion for the local side, something that Boliantz felt was most important, and so in 1985, he bought a facility in Ashland and reopened E.R. Boliantz Packing for himself.
It meant many long hours and time spent on the road for Boliantz, but, he said, “It’s been fun.”
“You never really did it for the money,” Gordon said to her father. “You did it for the love of livestock and the people.”
Currently, Boliantz sells wholesale product into retail markets and small independent meat shops, and also provides custom work. But they are running out of space.
In the works is a new facility in Mansfield, which will focus on custom and speciality processing.
“We have a lot of opportunity to grow,” said Boliantz. “We want to grow the retail side of the business, but we don’t have the room.”
The new facility is set to open in the next month.