One of the two employees usually tasked with taking daily product inventory was out on this Tuesday morning, so CEO Ed Hipp filled in.
It was a job he’d done back in his 20s, when he first began in the meat-producing business. The rote drill came back to him quickly.
“OK, 3-pound pack, mild. One, two, three, four, five, six,” an employee said to Hipp.
“Six times eight,” Hipp said counting the boxes.
“48,” the employee replied.
“48,” Hipp confirmed. “All right.”
No job at Ed Hipp Foods Inc., is beneath Hipp, 74, the company’s founder and chief executive officer. Hipp, who describes himself as “a youthful 74,” has done everything in the business: cutting meats, working as a sales representative, opening his own grocery store, and, now, overseeing 11 employees at his Olney plant, and working with four manufacturing partners to get his products to stores within a 100-mile radius of Philly.
A recent success could grow Hipp’s company substantially. In June, Walmart invited Hipp to pitch them on the idea of selling his products in their stores. At the corporation’s Bentonville, Ark., headquarters, he noticed that other invited companies were cooking their foods on-site and displaying samples. He didn’t go to the trouble, choosing instead to speak off the cuff to Walmart executives and simply show them the products as they’d appear on store shelves, in their normal packaging.
It can take months for presenters to get any response from the behemoth chain. But Hipp grabbed interest right away and is now in discussions with Walmart about selling his Smoked Sliced Canadian Turkey Bacon in some of its stores.
Hipp is happy for the opportunity. But he’s a modest man, not prone to extreme emotions. Compared to how excited he was when the Eagles won the Super Bowl, he says about the potential of a Walmart deal, “I’m not going to lie, it’s not close."
Still, he’s proud of the business he launched in 1975 and has built slowly and steadily ever since - perfecting foods like that Canadian turkey bacon and smoked sliced pepper turkey bacon. It’s helped him climb from “a notch above poor” — growing up in Mantua without enough money to buy candies at the store — to middle class, with his products in local and national chains like Acme and ShopRite.
He’s also proud to play an important role as one of the few — possibly only — African American meat-company owners in the Philadelphia region (none others are registered with either the local African American Chamber of Commerce or the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia).
“Just about every place I go when I have meetings, whether it’s with the Chamber of Commerce, meat owners, supermarkets, I’m the only black man there,” he said. “I’ve been noticing that for a while. It hasn’t changed in 43 years.”
Hipp’s employees are all people of color. Inger-Michele Trawick, 54, said Hipp gave her a position when she was looking for a new job after having a baby boy.
She had always wanted to be a secretary. During childhood field trips to Washington and New York City, she’d see professional women carrying briefcases and wearing suits, walking down the streets and she’d think: “That’s what I want to be.”
“They always had that proud look. And I came to Mr. Hipp’s, and I started from the bottom as a bookkeeper, a secretary, administrative assistant, and then an office manager,” her current position, Trawick said. She just celebrated her 22nd work anniversary.
“He gives opportunities for folks who never had an opportunity,” she said.
Coworker Bernard Bryant, 75, who has been with Hipp for 21 years, sticks around because he’s proud of the company’s foods.
“We have a quality premium product,” Bryant said. “I like to know that I’m selling something that people will really enjoy and they’ll keep coming back.”
American retail sales of meat and poultry are expected to exceed $108 billion by 2023, a projected increase of 10.3 percent since 2018, according to Packaged Facts, a consumer market research firm.
Hipp said that revenue at his company has grown just under $2.1 million in 2014 to $2.3 million last year.
What separates his meat and poultry from the competition, Hipp said, is a unique use of ingredients and portion sizes — like using dark turkey meat instead of white, and thicker cuts — which helps them stand out alongside big-name mainstays like Dietz & Watson, Oscar Mayer, and Hillshire Farm. Products not sold within a few days of their expiration dates are donated to organizations that help the homeless, Hipp said — about $2,000 worth a week.
Hipp got into the meat business in his 20s, washing the floors at a kosher butcher shop before learning how to grind, stuff, hang, and smoke meat. When he wanted to start his own business, he said the owners of the butcher company let him use their equipment to create and store his own products.
Working at a kosher butcher taught him how to make a lean product without using pork, said Hipp.
Back then, he said, no company was specializing in only beef and turkey products.
“Specifically in the black community," Hipp said, customers were adamant about wanting good, lean products, not “junk."
Since those early days, when Hipp sold about 2,000 packs of meat per week, his company has grown and now sells 40,000-to-50,000 packs weekly in about 500 stores in four states.
“I didn’t get a good play in the market until Acme," said Hipp, whose first products made it onto the chain’s shelves around 1979. Customers and other grocers took notice. “They look at you differently when you’re in major-corporation stores.”
His manufacturing partners have the recipes for Hipp’s foods, putting his meat products together on-site and then delivering them to his Olney warehouse. From there, Hipp employees get the products to the stores. His company may be small, Hipp said, but his reach is wide (thanks in part, perhaps, to employees who “do the job of three to four people” and make anywhere from $10 to $25 an hour).
In his office, Hipp keeps a card that reads: “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” Regarding a Walmart deal, he said, his potential success is assured because "there’s no doubt in my mind, whatever number they want, I can do it.”
Besides, he’s in the meat industry for the long haul.
“The only way I would leave this business is horizontal," he said with a laugh, "or if someone buys me out.”