By Lilian Schaer
Heidelberg – They built their business on the power of local long before it was popular and their allergen-free meat products are a life-line to many food allergy sufferers.
These efforts have won Waterloo Region’s Stemmler Meats and Cheese a Premier’s Award for Innovation and they’ve also just been named a finalist for a prestigious innovation award from the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce. “Anytime you have an honour like this, especially from your peers and in an industry that is so diverse, it is very humbling,” says Kevin Stemmler.
“The recognition is important to show we’re doing the right thing with regards to the food industry.” Kevin’s father Gerard, a butcher by trade, started the business in 1985, selling fresh meat out of a small space in Heidelberg. He gradually expanded into processed products and as customers began requesting changes to accommodate food allergies and intolerances, their specialty product business began.
Kevin and his mother Maryann became the company’s first employees. “We were a new business and wanted to keep customers happy so we started to make changes to some of our formulations to address food issues people were having,” explains Kevin. “I’ve always been a foodie so I really enjoy working on the food design end of the business.”
Today, Stemmler Meats offers a wide selection of local foods through their Heidelberg store, from smoked meats, sausages and deli meats to heat and serve products. They also sell fresh local beef, pork, chicken and turkey, as well as locally grown produce and Mennonite baked goods.
A few small specialty stores also carry Stemmler meat products. Developing products for celiac sufferers has been a main focus, but they’re also addressing the needs of consumers with migraines and certain skin and intestinal disorders. Their goal, says Kevin, is to accommodate as many problems as possible in a single food product, recognizing that in a modern family, multiple members could be dealing with varying food issues.
“A lot of our products will let a family sit down and enjoy one meal with our food instead of having to prepare two or three,” says Kevin, adding that they have ham, 30 varieties of sausages, and deli meats – even their mac and cheese loaf – which are all gluten-free.
Over the years, Stemmler Meats and Cheese has won 26 awards in the Ontario Independent Meat Processors product competitions. They’re on the Top 100 Food and Beverage Manufacturers 2010-2012 in Food In Canada magazine and they’ve been recognized by the local Chamber of Commerce for business leadership and environmental initiatives in their facility.
They’re currently in the running for an innovation award from the Chamber, one that has them competing against some of the region’s industrial giants, which Kevin says shows how important food has become to the local economy.
Looking ahead, Kevin, whose brothers Terry and Shawn also work in the business, sees the company’s future firmly tied to the growing health care market. He attends the world’s largest meat manufacturing show in Germany every several years – his next trip is coming up this spring – where he looks forward to talking with food scientists and equipment manufacturers to come up with new ideas.
“It’s about the people. That’s what gets our feet on the floor every morning. We are impacting the lives of the general public in a very positive way by helping them deal with their food issues and that motivates you to do more,” he says. “Our business is very much a team effort and we wouldn’t be where we are today without our parents giving us the opportunity to do some good in the world.”
This article is one in a series of profiles on Ontario farmers and farm businesses produced by Farm & Food Care Ontario.