Processing Plants are fighting against a group behind a ballot that will ruin their businesses and livelihoods.

Denver Processor Fighting to Save His Business

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Rick Stott grew up on a dairy farm in Montana, but when he looked ahead to the future, agriculture was not a part of it.

“I swore I'd never go into ag,” Stott recalls.

After pursuing a career as a CPA, however, Stott worked his way back to agriculture in a “roundabout way,” and after two decades with Agri Beef, he began working for Superior Farms in 2013, where he now serves as president and CEO. An employee-owned company with 475 people, Superior Farms processes approximately one-third of the lambs in USDA facilities each year, and owns facilities in Dixon, Calif., Blue Island, Ill., Boston, and Denver. It is the latter facility that has inspired Stott’s recent activity on the political scene.

The impetus was “Prohibition of Slaughterhouses,” a citizen-initiative Denver ordinance that would, come Jan. 1, 2026, ban “the construction, maintenance, or use of” any meat processing facilities in Denver. The ordinance, which acquired signatures last year and will appear on the November 2024 ballot, would effectively close Superior Farms’ Denver facility, and Stott and other industry actors have responded.

Meatingplace caught up with Stott at the Annual Meat Conference, where he detailed his counter campaign, and how he sees things panning out in November. (The discussion has been edited for length and clarity.)

Meatingplace: Tell us about the Denver ballot initiative, and how you and others have responded.

STOTT: The group [behind the ballot] is not new to us. They've been picketing and/or protesting our plant for a couple of years now. What is new and different is that it's the first initiative we know of that is focusing through a ballot in any particular city. And this is a great concern, not just for us but also for the rest of the industry. And that's why we're getting such great support from every segment of the industry, because they can see that if this passes for some reason, or if it doesn't get killed in a big way, then this may be a venue for animal activists to come after all kinds of cities and do the same thing.

And so what we've done is we've created a couple of funding mechanisms, but more importantly, it created a group of collaborative people across the industry. [One] group that's really stepped up is the Meat Institute, and they have done a tremendous job in providing us support, contacts to other segments of the industry, and really providing resources to help us fight this.

Superior Farms [is] relatively small, so the resources that we have to fight this are limited. So, we're trying to raise capital and money to fight this in a pretty big way.

Meatingplace: What steps have you taken to inform your cause?

STOTT: Early on, we did a survey, and we identified 800 Denver voters and found out what their primary issues were. One of the big issues was that over 70% of the voters didn't even know we existed. Now, I would say that that's a pretty normal thing for most packing plants. We try to fly under the radar, and we don't want people to really know that we're here. If people know that we're here, then we're probably doing something wrong, because we're too smelly, we're too stinky, we're doing something bad, right? And when the voters signed the initiative, I sincerely believe that they're thinking, ‘Hey, I don't want a slaughterhouse built next to my high-price condo.’ I can understand that. And so if 70% don't know that we exist, then one of the major problems is that they don't think that there's going to be any damage to anybody.

And so what we found in this survey is that, what really is emotionally supportive to us, is the fact that, one, it's unfair to target a business through this kind of ballot initiative. It's inherently unfair.

Meatingplace: What would the impact be if the ballot initiative passed?

STOTT: You're going to lose 160 well-paid, owner jobs. Not only will they lose their jobs, but they'll lose their equity that they've built up. We have people that have been there for 20 or 30 years, that their entire retirement is hinged upon the success of the Superior Farms, and it's inherently unfair to be able to basically kick them and their families to the street and lose those well paying jobs.

[Also], this is a local supply. Colorado lamb is known around the world, even in this hotel, the really nice steak restaurant has Colorado lamb, from us, on the menu. They love it. It's a great quality, they love the quality, but it's a local product, local supplier. [And if we close], they'll have to ship lamb in from Australia or New Zealand, or someplace else around the country, and increase the cost. So that's inherently not right.

Those are the things that I think even the most liberal voter in Denver really will respond to. We got to communicate that, we got to communicate we exist, we got to communicate those messages. If we do that, we will win — not only win 51-49, we'll win big in that.

Meatingplace: What actions have you taken to counteract the initiative?

STOTT: A couple of areas. One of the most powerful carriers of our message is our employees. … They're going to our council people, and to other events and talking about this issue. And so a lot of it is our own employees that will be out talking to their friends and neighbors. Eighty percent of our employees live in the city of Denver, and so there's a tremendous network within the 160 people.

Number two is social media. The demographics of Denver is young, educated. Sixty percent have college education, and 80% would say that they're liberal in their politics, and 10% believe they're socialists. And even the most socialist liberal person says, ‘Do I want to eliminate 160 well-paying jobs? No. Do I want to put them in the street? No.’ And so it really is about communicating.

Denver's a really interesting place in that they have a two-week mail-in ballot period of time, and oftentimes they have neighborhood gatherings to determine how to vote. They get together for a pizza party, and they organize these things, and they have discussions about how they should vote in these ballots. And the ballot is going to be fairly large, and so we need to be able to communicate through social media. It's probably the most effective way to do that.

We just hired a campaign manager two weeks ago, and he's consolidating the process. And we're getting RFPs for each of the services that we want to develop. And so we have a month or two before we have to actually start going. We don't want to do it too soon, on one hand, and on the other hand, we need to start developing and communicating the message.

Meatingplace: What's your confidence level, as we approach the November vote?

STOTT: I think we'll win. It's just how much we're going to win. We want to win big, so we need more money to be able to do that. We want that message to go to these animal liberation groups that says, ‘This is not a path you want to go down.’

One of the things we're doing, for example, is we are sponsoring the Denver Restaurant Week. We're the primary sponsor, so we got a tremendous amount of press. I was at a press conference with the mayor of Denver, and talked about Superior Farms, employee-owned, et cetera — making people aware that we exist, that we're local, that we're in town, that we've been in Denver for 40 years. That plant has been there for 80 years. And that's a pretty powerful message — it's the heritage of Denver. There used to be a dozen slaughterhouses right in that same neighborhood; we're the last one there. So it's a heritage.

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