Chicken & Vegetable Pie

The History of Morrison Meat Pies

In November 2003, when Gene and Susan Tafoya met with the owners of the Morrison Meat Pie Company, the 120-year old manufacturing plant was just a few months away from forever shutting its doors. The company originated with Thomas Morrison selling the Scottish meat pies from a cart filled with hot coals down Main Street in Downtown Salt Lake City and was passed down to two generations of Morrison's. Under subsequent owners, it survived the Great Depression, both World Wars, economic upturns and downturns, but floundered when competition arose in the form of fast-food hamburgers, hot dogs and fried chicken.

Gene Tafoya had grown up next door to the Morrison Meat Pie plant, and as a young boy, awakened by the smells of baking pies in the early hours of the morning, would trudge over to the plant in his pajamas and press his nose up against the window, watching the activity and inhaling all the wonderful smells. The bakers, noticing the young boy, would offer him a hot broken pie. When he began showing up every morning, they put him to work sweeping up the floors in exchange for more meat pies.

Nearly fifty years later, when Gene came to buy several cases of pies to take back with him to California, on that fateful day in 2003, the owners confided their worries about being able to keep the doors open. Having an extensive background in sales and marketing for major corporations, Gene set out to bring Morrison's back from the brink and in April 2004, he and his wife, Susan, acquired the company. They recognized the company's inherent value--- a long history of operation, a loyal customer base, an existing distribution channel and USDA certified status for their products.

Early on, Gene applied for and received two small SBA loans, but as Gene would say, “Morrison Meat Pies didn't need changes, it needed transformations.” And that is what both he and Susan set out to do. Not having a background or any training in food manufacturing, they both applied their business backgrounds and knowledge to "thinking outside the box" and coming up with innovative ways to transform the old into the new, while keeping true to the original recipe.

In 2005, the Morgan Valley Lamb Company, a local lamb producer, approached Gene about using a combination of lamb and beef in the Scottish meat pie. Gene was not willing to change Morrison's recipe, but he willingly produced a lamb pie under private label for Morgan Valley Lamb to market to their customer base. The Scottish lamb pie product has achieved a level of success and continues to be manufactured today. At about the same time, Morrison's began working on Aussie Pies, the ubiquitous fast food in Australia and New Zealand, surpassing pizzas, hamburgers, hot dogs or any other convenient, fast-food. In their research, the Tafoya's found that Australians and New Zealanders eat more than 40 pounds of lamb per capita per year. (The U.S., by contrast, consumes less than a pound per capita per year).

One of the reasons for the high consumption is the Aussie Pie, which is a puff pastry filled with meat, gravy and vegetables, herbs and seasonings. The pies are served hot, are hand-held and don't require a fork or spoon or any topping other than a dab of "sauce" (similar to ketchup). Pies are filled with all kinds of meats --- from chicken to beef to lamb, and sometimes kangaroo. Whatever the filling, these pies are delicious for folks on the go, hence the "Traveler's" pie.

As the Tafoya's continued to develop these Aussie Pies, it became apparent that they needed to automate their plant and purchase an online machine that would produce 50,000 pies per day. In 2006, they submitted a business plan to the NLPA to show how Morrison's could increase lamb consumption in the U.S. by providing a value-added product using sub-prime cuts of lamb in a convenient, less expensive medium to the American public. The NLPA funded the equipment portion of the project, but the Tafoya's still needed operating capital for packaging, design, media, marketing, lamb and ingredients, and production costs to get this product to market.

They sought funding through a joint venture with Morgan Valley Lamb Company in an application for a grant through the USDA Rural Development for fiscal 2007-2008. The USDA funded the grant in the amount of $225,000. The NLPA agreed to fund an additional $100,000 for matching funds along with contributions from Morrison's, Morgan Valley Lamb and Love Communications for in-kind matching funds.

Co-owner Eugene Tafoya, president and managing director, has an extensive background in sales and marketing management, having worked for several major corporations. He is responsible for sales and marketing, product development, forming key alliances, and growing the company's distribution channels.

Susan Tafoya, Vice President and Operations Manager, has had a long career in research, public health, clinical laboratory sales and management. She is in charge or raising capital, writing funding proposals, and managing operations to conform to USDA and HACCP requirements. She also oversees vendor relations and new business development.

The third person in the firm's leadership chain is Richard Gunther, a third-generation professional baker and Morrison's production manager. He oversees pastry and product development of the Aussie-style pies and other products.

A key strategy in the launch of the Aussie Pies, has been to produce an offering in beef and chicken along with lamb. The American consumer has shown resistance to lamb, often equating it to its distant cousin, mutton. Morrison's managers note that when consumers are reintroduced to lamb as a gourmet, healthy alternative to more common meats, they are often surprised at the sweet, rich taste of lamb. The raw cost of lamb is more than double the price of sirloin tip (the cut used in the Steak and Mushroom Aussie pie) and three times that of chicken breast, used in the Chicken & Vegetable Aussie Pie. Morrison's established a median price offering with no difference in price between beef, lamb and chicken so that a higher price for lamb would not be a deterrent for consumers to taste the lamb product.

In a statement, Morrison's noted that with this funding in place, the firm continues to introduce the much anticipated line of authentic Aussie Pies in a commercial launch to penetrate the U.S. market, and with additional planning it will initiate a line of appetizers as well as school lunch pies for the institutional market.

Today, Morrison Scottish meat pies and Aussie Pies are being marketed in a number of outlets in Utah and has for the first time in its history, expanded out of state into Oregon, Washington and an eight state region including N. Dakota, S. Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, and Arizona. They also ship anywhere in the U.S. to customers through their internet site, www.morrisonmeatpies.com. The two-pack Aussie Lamb, Steak or Chicken pies retail between $4.50 and $5.50 and the six-pack retails for $12.50 to $15, depending on the distributor and location.

Morrison's wholesale grocery store distribution channel presently consists of Associated Foods, Albertson's, Smith/Kroger, Super Wal-Mart and Super Target. In addition, Morrison products have been accepted into Costco stores in the Salt Lake City area, Western Boxed Meats in Portland and Whole Foods Markets in Salt Lake City.

In fiscal 2007-2008, Morrison's has been faced with unprecedented increases in the cost of raw ingredients such as flour, margarine, meat and milk. These items have doubled and tripled in price since original projections were made on getting this new value-added product to the marketplace. In addition, gasoline price increases have caused huge increases in transportation, as well as affecting plastics and packaging materials.

Although production cost increases have strained the firm's cash flow, the commercial launch is now underway and Morrison products are receiving excellent reception as the pies are being introduced to consumers, buyers and grocery distributors.

"We are enthusiastic and excited about opening new markets as we begin to expand our marketplace outside of Utah for the first time in the company's 125-year history," management stated.