STILLWATER, Okla. – Randy Ehrlich of Bar-S Foods, a Sigma Company, was recently appointed to the Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center Industry Advisory Committee by the Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
The advisory board, appointed by the highest positions of the Oklahoma government, offers counsel, makes decisions and takes leadership action to ensure FAPC makes sound short- and long-term plans to accomplish its mission and objectives.
Ehrlich has served as a forward-thinking leader for the Oklahoma food industry. As a strategic executive partner, he is dedicated to all business, marketing, customer strategies and planning for the global food company, which has a presence in 19 countries worldwide. The Sigma Food Company is well-respected around the world and remains well-known as a quality manufacturer of processed meats.
Andrea Graves, business planning and marketing specialist, said Ehrlich has a long history in the food manufacturing business.
“He understands first-hand the challenges and hurdles food companies face every day,” Graves said. “He represents a perspective that will help FAPC continue the mission to serve the state of Oklahoma because he knows how crucial the expertise and facility is to the growth of the economy.”
For the last 20 years, Bar-S Foods and FAPC have enjoyed a long-standing relationship. FAPC provides training workshops and assists with experimental products production. Bar-S Foods has sponsored events at FAPC, provided equipment donations to the facility and funded scholarships for students.
Having led major food businesses and entrepreneurial development businesses for nearly 40 years, Ehrlich is the epitome of pioneering through an industry.
From serving as an area sales manager in 1979 to progressing into present-day leadership positions while tackling new products, Ehrlich paved his way into uncharted territory without prior sales experience.
Roy Escoubas, FAPC director, said Ehrlich has significant experience in the food industry extending to his early days as a young salesman for Scrivner Food Services as he learned the importance of meeting consumer needs and preferences.
Ehrlich isn’t afraid to explore an unfamiliar and unmapped industry as it’s a prominent aspect of his family history. His great-grandfather emigrated from Russia in 1906 and was granted by then-President Theodore Roosevelt a 300-acre homestead southwest of Shattuck, Oklahoma.
His great-grandfather learned how to grow hard red winter wheat in arid land and sold the grain and wheat stalks to a broom-making factory. Shattuck’s production helped the state lead the nation in production for several years. The portion of the homestead, which has been in the family for the last 100 years, continues to be owned and operated by Ehrlich.
Ehrlich got his first taste of the food industry while working as an assistant manager for a restaurant while he was in high school. After attending Southern Nazarene University for two years, he returned to work as a general manager for the same merchant. While serving in this position, he became closely acquainted with vendors and food service distributors, which ignited his career in sales.
After working with Cargill Meat Solutions, the second-largest meat packer in America, for over 20 years, Ehrlich launched an entrepreneur’s franchise business dedicated to helping entrepreneurs to start their own businesses. He represented over 75 different industries and helped match his clients with the best business model solution fitting their strengths and talents which has had significant economic impacts on the rural communities.
“At Cargill, we hire about 100 management trainees a year, and OSU is one of the key recruiting places,” Ehrlich said. “They start at the very bottom of the plant and work their way up.”
The new COO of Cargill was a trainee, Ehrlich helped onboard, who worked their way up from the bottom in the plant by growing their management and learning everything, he said.
Like Cargill, Sigma Food Company takes the long-term view of their trainees so they experience all aspects of the business and intimately understand the culture, leadership and how they can impact the future of the organization. Sigma is very similar to Cargill in many respects when it comes to taking the long-term view on the decision-making processes.
“Sigma focuses on growing their people,” Ehrlich said. “It’s a good culture for building a team because of the leadership. The managers are young people directly graduated from college who learn and grow from their mistakes.”
Ehrlich joined Bar-S Foods to develop and execute a strategic plan to extend their presence within the food service industry, which is the youngest of the four operating units within Sigma in the United States. The aggressive growth plan is to emerge as one of the top leading food processors within the food service industry on a national scale. The food service and retail industries are two uniquely different business models.
“The challenges of being an intrapreneur within a retail organization built around providing low-cost, high-volume retail products is very similar to everything involved as an entrepreneur is starting one’s own business,” Ehrlich said. “In the beginning phases, it’s like navigating through whitewater in a small raft, which can be overwhelming at times,” he added.
Within the first year, his travel schedule away from home was focusing on sales marketing while identifying and recruiting the best talent to grow the emerging food service business with Sigma as a pioneer for Bar-S within the food service industry.
In the first two years, Ehrlich and the new team grew the food service business to approximately $19 million in revenue by 2018.
“Our food service team will exceed our plan finishing the year with approximately $38 million revenue in 2021, so we are moving in the right direction,” Ehrlich said. “Overall, revenue for Sigma U.S. this year will be approximately $1.3 billion. We have a lot of growth opportunity.”
With the rapid changes in the food industry, the team is expanding the product offering within food service to beyond meat and cheese. Better Balance is the newest brand of food to meet the needs of the growing flexitarian, a person who has a primarily vegetarian diet but also eats meats and fish.
“We continue to focus on meats; however, we now are complementing the consumer demand through pea-based and soy-based products,” Ehrlich said. “The farmers growing soybeans or split peas will benefit from this growing trend.”
The plant-based products are a $10-billion-per-year market within the United States.
“There is a lot of perception on plant-based foods, but there is a global plant-based snacking group dedicated to bringing attention to the innovation of plant-based foods,” Ehrlich said. “Under the Better Balance brand, we are launching hotdogs, burgers, shreds and even nacho cheese dip. There is significant growth, particularly within the colleges and universities today, and we need to be part of that growth.”
There is a lot of opportunity, and our focus is on innovation as we come out with unique and interesting products, he said. Sigma realizes retail is very saturated and expanding more aggressively into food service, which is the next frontier.
“Ehrlich knows what retail and food service consumers like and his depth of experience in the meat industry has taught him how to deliver it,” Escoubas said. “He brings this knowledge and experience to the table to help mentor FAPC to be the best we can for the diverse food industry in Oklahoma.”
FAPC, a part of OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, helps to discover, develop and deliver technical and business information that will stimulate and support the growth of value-added food and agricultural products and processing in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma State University