Family is key to the success of Burt’s Meats
Joann Burt along with her two sons, Kyle and Kermit, are the pillars to the family business of Burt’s Meats in Eyota.
(Editor's note: This is the second in a two-part series on meat processing in Minnesota. Last week's story looked at a report on meat processing in the state.)
EYOTA, Minn. ― Meat processing has always been a family affair for the Burt family.
Joann Burt is the current owner and president of Burt’s Meats, while her sons Kyle and Kermit Burt run the day-to-day operation. The Burt family has run the store in downtown Eyota since 2001.
The two brothers have taken on running the business since the beginning. But at times, all six of the Burt siblings chipped in to help run the business.
“We’ve been fortunate for the family that did stay and work with us, because we wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for them,” said Kyle Burt, whose son — also named Kyle — works in the store now.
Joann’s husband had worked at a meat locker in Lewiston, Minnesota, since he was in his 20s, she said, and learned from his father who was a longtime butcher.
“They used to go out in the country and do all the butchering for farmers,” she said of her husband and his father. “And then it got bigger and bigger, and then when we got married, we decided that maybe this was a good thing to get the boys involved in, because they all had the experience.”
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Finding proper workforce is a challenge at the shop, said Kyle Burt, who said on big cut days, they need about eight employees working in the shop, six workers who are cutting, and another two slaughtering. The two employees who are a constant in that rotation are him and his brother, with one manning the cuts and the other doing the slaughtering.
Kyle Burt said he and his brother got their first education on meat cutting from their father, in their backyard.
“When we lived on a farm, and we were doing it there,” said Kyle Burt on when they learned how to cut meat. “It was just for the family back then, and that's where we pretty much learned everything.”
Kermit Burt said he remembers those days fondly.
“I remember dad butchering beef and pigs in the backyard, and we had to help him,” he said. “We didn't do a whole lot back then, but as we got older, he started handing us the knife, and we just kind of picked up on it.”
Joann Burt said the shop was set up to be a state-inspected processing location when they purchased it in 2001, but they chose to set it up as a federally-inspected one, in order to ship meat across state lines and internationally. A USDA inspector is on site to oversee the daily work done at the shop from slaughter to processing.
“It’s been growing extremely well throughout the years,” she said.
High prices and high demand
On the late afternoon of Aug. 16, Joann Burt could be heard talking on the phone with a customer while her two sons worked to clean up the shop for the day.
“Well if we’re only going to kill 'em and cool 'em for you, we can fit them in any time,” she said over the phone, after telling the customer how high pig prices had gone in recent weeks.
Joann Burt said the family has never seen prices as high as they are for meat right now, and the changes can be drastic from week to week.
“We just don't know if they're going to go higher or not,” Burt said of meat prices. “But the predictions are that they will probably get higher.”
She said it’s mostly her job to explain pricing to people when they call to schedule processing, and that can be tricky with prices being so volatile.
“But some people don't care,” she said of the higher prices. “If they want that pig, then they'll pay whatever they have to to get it.”
Along with high prices comes high demand at the shop, and for the entire meat processing industry, said Kyle Burt. He said it’s not so much that the family can’t keep up with the high demand, but they’re at their limit.
“Especially during the fall time, when that comes around, which is right around the corner — September, October, November, when we got a list of people that are waiting, you know, trying to get in,” he said.
He said even before the pandemic they were busy, but following 2020, they had new customers — some of whom weren’t accustomed to the business of meat processing.
“We had a lot of people that called up, and for example, they’d schedule eight beef, and then when it came time to bring those eight beef in, they'd only bring two,” said Burt. “And that's what really kind of hurt us.”
He said now that the price of beef has gone up so much, people are backing out of buying quarters and halves.
“It takes a pretty good chunk of change to buy a quarter of beef, and I think people are more or less gun shy with the price of the stuff, like everything else,” he said.
In 2020, 634 beef were processed at Burt’s Meats along with 2,039 hogs. In 2021, the totals were 629 beef and 1,650 hogs.
A future secured
Joann Burt said the shop in Eyota serves a mixture of longtime and new farmers, but the majority of them are longtime customers.
“It's hard to bring new ones in now because we are pretty booked up with the people we've been servicing for these last 20 years,” she said. “And it seems they've all gotten bigger.”
She said their customers stay with them because the family is honest in the way they do business.
“We've had most of our customers here now since we started, and they've stayed right with us,” she said. “And we're really pleased with how they all treat us, and we’re fair with them on everything, and try to keep our prices competitive so that they can afford what they're doing.”
As far as succession, Joann Burt said she hopes her sons are willing to take the business on in the future, and maybe the younger Kyle Burt — her grandson — after them.
“The boys are really experienced in what they're doing, and they love what they're doing,” said Joann Burt. “It's very hard work, but they don't mind it.”
Kermit Burt said the reason they’ve stayed so consistent with their business is because they’re family.
“Families always have their moments, but for the most part at the end of the day, in this business, you have to work together,” said Kermit Burt.
Kyle Burt said that succession isn’t something they really talk about, but something that is inevitable.
“We just come to work every day and put our heads down, just to get stuff done,” he said. “It’s just a crazy busy business.”