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From Trainee to Top Level, Sustainability at OSI

September 27, 2019

OSI Group is one of the world’s largest food companies. With its massive scale and top talent around the globe, OSI has the opportunity and the ability to positively impact the future of the industry and drive the entire supply chain towards more sustainable methods of food production. OSI is doing this today by partnering with suppliers to produce, buy and sell sustainable beef. These principles of food production are encouraged and practiced at all levels of the organization and begin when people join OSI – sometimes right out of college.

Eric Small was born and raised in Chicago. He recently graduated from Indiana University Bloomington with a major in Management, Operation Management and International Business and a minor in Psychology. Eric has been in OSI’s Rotational Management Trainee (RMT) program since graduating, which is empowering him by providing him with exposure to multiple verticals in OSI’s business, including supply chain, factory operations and quality assurance.

The RMT Program is designed to prepare recent college graduates for future leadership roles within the OSI organization. RMTs gain broad exposure to the organization through a combination of rotational assignments and formal training. During the 18-24 month program, RMTs rotate between OSI’s Global Corporate Headquarters and manufacturing locations across the United States, and possibly abroad, to gain exposure to various functional areas including Plant Operations, Quality Assurance, Supply Chain and Business Development.

Eric’s daily responsibilities include ordering the fresh beef trimmings for one of OSI’s processing plants from the company’s approved beef suppliers. Trimmings are the pieces of meat that remain after other prime cuts like steak or roast are removed from the animal. Beef trimmings are often used to make ground beef like that used in burgers or hot dogs. He also manages inventory and special orders for OSI’s key customers.

“This has been the most gratifying thing, negotiating at a high level where the decisions I make really have an impact,” Eric said. And this is exactly why OSI saw it fit to make sure he understands the impact his decisions make on the business as well as the environment. “I didn’t have a picture of the entire value chain when I first started. OSI wants me to see how everything works together, so I can make informed decisions, looking beyond my role and into the overall business,” Eric said.


As part of the RMT program, Eric continued his supply chain management training by visiting Hunt Hill Cattle Company in Woodville, Mississippi to learn about a grazing method that is dramatically better for the environment and animals than traditional methods used before the 1990s. The visit to Hunt Hill, which is owned and operated by Cooper and Katie Hurst, was organized by the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB), and also attended by OSI’s Chief Sustainability Officer and President of GRSB, Nicole Johnson-Hoffman.

“OSI does really well in that they put a lot of investment in their RMTs,” said Eric. “They want us to have experiences from across the company and see every different aspect of the industry.”

Eric was at Hunt Hill to learn more about OSI’s involvement in sustainable beef and to take away key lessons that would help him merge sustainable practices with profitability and sourcing decisions for OSI and its partners. Eric will now have a better sense of which suppliers are buying from ranches that use industry leading sustainable farming practices, such as the Adaptive Multi Paddock (AMP) grazing style. Eric learned that this style of grazing could lower prices: Since AMP grazing can eliminate or drastically reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers – which can cost upwards of $40 to $50 per acre – this grazing style results in lower production costs. With many farms having hundreds or thousands of acres (the Hursts have 1,400 acres), the resulting cost savings is substantial.


Husband and wife team Cooper and Katie Hurst taught those in attendance about the benefits AMP grazing has on their ranch. Katie says that this particular sustainable farming practice has empowered her and Cooper to quadruple both the amount and types of vegetation growing on their land. This variety of vegetation has resulted in healthier cattle as well.

In fact, the Hursts have seen a variety of local grasses due to the use of this practice without using additional fertilizer. In this grazing system, cattle are more closely packed and quickly rotated to new pasture in order to give the animals fresh grass more often and give the grass enough time to rest and catalyze growth. As an added benefit, the manure is concentrated into one area, which makes it more effective as a natural fertilizer. Together these operational decisions allow grass in the unused paddocks to grow higher, make the grazing healthier and easier to reach for the cows.

“I came back from the experience being even more excited to continue learning about sustainability at OSI and in the beef industry,” said Eric. “Growing up in the suburbs, it has been this kind of exposure that has opened me up to a whole new world. Seeing people taking big steps to positively impact the environment while running profitable ranching or food processing businesses was so inspiring and so exciting for me.”


AMP grazing has been around since the late 1990s, yet many farmers still do not employ this technique. While agriculture is one of the oldest and richest occupations we have in the world, farming traditions also create some inherent hurdles when it comes to sharing best practices. This is why GRSB and OSI believe it is so important to support days like the AMP grazing farm visit.

Many times the best way to transfer these lessons is from farmer to farmer, so opening the dialogue between farmers and other members of the industry is crucial to get sustainable farming practices off the ground and more commonly used. And OSI puts that focus on every level of the organization and makes a point to teach lessons of sustainable beef to the industry’s newest entrants, so these kinds of sustainable farming practices become the norm.

“As an RMT, I imagined slogging through office work and getting through day to day, you know, what the typical college kid imagines. I didn’t think I would get out and do something so active,” said Eric. “I got to go outside and tour a farm, travel somewhere I have never been and make a positive business impact – we were learning about something that will be good for our business and our customers and be very valuable for the future.”
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