Retail giant Walmart bought a minority share in a Nebraska beef packing plant on Wednesday, what an Iowa cattleman says is a “seismic shift” in the beef processing industry.
Chad Tentinger, principal developer of Cattlemen’s Heritage Beef Company, says the move is historic — and it was inevitable. “We’ve already seen it in other avenues, in pork and we’ve seen it in chicken, I think beef is just the next natural progression of that,” Tentinger says. “It also is going to be another playing field. I think anytime you can bring the farmer’s product closer to the end user — to retail — is a good thing long-term.”
Cattlemen’s Heritage is planning to build a $325 million beef packing plant in southwest Iowa’s Mills County. Tentinger says Walmart’s move this week is what he sees for the future, which he says represents a “massive, fundamental change” to the beef industry. “It started out as stockyards and stockyards sold to packing plants, and then the stockyards went away and then farmers sold directly to the packing plant. Packing plants got consolidated into what we call the Big Four today and for the first time in a very long time, now there’s other industry that’s getting into this process,” Tentinger says. “So to have retailers enter the processing business is a drastic shift than what we’ve ever seen before.”
Tentinger sees Walmart’s investment in the North Platte property as the first step by retail into beef production, which he predicts will be good for the consumer and good for the cattle producer. “Retailers, at the end of the day, they want to know where their meat’s coming from. They want to know exactly, down to what farm it came off of, potentially, where it came from, animal health, wellbeing, all these things are becoming more and more important to the consumer,” Tentinger says. “And when you have that, it automatically draws off smaller producer farms and smaller family farms.”
It may only be a matter of time, he says, before Iowa-based grocery chains like Hy-Vee or Fareway make a similar move to Walmart by investing in localized meat processing. “I think every retailer nationwide today is taking note of this and looking at the opportunities going forward in the processing business, for sure,” he says.
Tentinger is founder and owner of TenCorp, a cattle industry construction firm with offices in Des Moines and Marcus. The planned beef plant in Mills County is on target to begin construction late this fall, Tentinger says, with the opening scheduled for late 2024. It will employ up to 750 workers and at capacity, will be able to process up to 1,500 head of cattle per day.