By ALLEN LAMAN
CELESTINE — Following a busy spring and hopefully summer, a local custom meat processor is preparing to break ground on a new, second location.
Sander Processing was flooded with business when COVID-19 began its spread across the globe. Chris Sander, one of the Celestine company’s three co-owners, explained that when grocery store shelves emptied, his on-site retail section boomed.
“We saw a very large increase in sales,” Chris said. “Probably about 400%. We’re not talking 40%, we’re talking 400%.”
He explained that “we’re kind of a start-to-finish processor” — live animals are brought to the business for slaughter and processing, while the shop’s retail business also sells fresh and frozen meats, soup mixes, seasonings and more.
Custom processing orders brought in by farmers have also taken off at the local butcher. They had the animals, and consumers wanted to buy in bulk, so the farmers rushed in. Chris said, “we went from four weeks behind to eight months behind in our customer processing.”
He hadn’t seen anything like it during the shop’s 17-year run. Retail sales have slowed a bit, and the placing of custom orders has been paused as Sander’s calendar is booked through the end of the year. The issue comes with capacity — coolers are jam-packed full every day.
“It was just a little overwhelming,” Chris said of the huge number of custom orders. “We didn’t want to get committed to too far out because we didn’t know how much we could keep producing on a weekly basis.”
This busyness is not unique to Sander Processing. Chris explained that the pandemic has boosted demand and sales at custom meat processors throughout Indiana.
A new Sander Processing facility is set to open on two acres of land in St. Anthony in early to mid-2021. Plans to expand began late last year before the coronavirus struck. When the new location launches, that space will double the company’s production capacity.
It will sit on the grounds next to the former Othmar Klem factory and across the road from the St. Anthony Community Center.
“We were already running pretty much at capacity,” Chris said of the state of the business pre-pandemic. “And we had some large accounts where people are reselling their own brand of meat. So, we already recognized that we needed more processing space.”
Groundbreaking on the second Sander Processing site will take place later this summer. Fischer Farms — the local processor’s biggest customer — is also constructing a shipping and distribution center adjacent to Sander Processing’s new location.
“It’s a good time to be expanding,” Chris said. “You know the business is already there, so you don’t have to worry about going out looking for more business to fill the capacity at the new building.”