With over 40 years of experience, Michael Billings has seen a lot over the years that we can learn from. We recently had the good fortune to catch up with him for this month’s 5 questions.
1.) What made you get into the protein space?
I grew up on Martha’s Vineyard where my grandparents owned a 45 acre chicken and turkey farm. I loved it there and learned a lot about hard work—it’s where I also learned how to cut meat. After graduating with a degree in Medical Technology, I found I could make more cutting meat than working in a hospital.
I started at Purity Supreme and worked my way to buyer. I then moved to a startup (which was a small Whole Foods before Whole Foods came around), and led a fabrication plant in Boston buying and processing lamb carcasses. From there, I got in on the ground floor at BJs, and ran the meat and seafood department for 25 years. After a brief retirement, ButcherBox convinced me to take on a leadership role—and I’m still here seven years later. It’s been a very fun career that’s given me the chance to learn and work with incredibly smart people.
2.) Think back over your career and tell us about an inflection point for the industry, and how it changed the landscape today.
This is a tough one… Many changes made in the name of efficiency have been one-sided. They haven’t been good for the land, farmers, animals or human health. And now we’re seeing pushback from the younger generations. They care about GMOs, herbicides, antibiotics, added hormones, label transparency, etc.
The biggest positive change is the introduction of HAACP plans and other food safety rules. Companies implemented them thinking less about their competitive advantage and more about human food safety.
3.) What do you see as the most pressing issue in the industry for the next generation to have to navigate?
I think it’s getting the industry to come a little back to the center when it comes to change. Consumers perceive change differently than packers. A packer looks at everything as a cost, not what’s right for human, animal and land health.
I also think that if we don’t move to more regenerative agriculture and get more organic matter in the soil, our soil’s ability to grow corn and other crops may be lost with climate change.
4.) Is prop 12 going to define table stakes for the pork industry moving forward?
ButcherBox is in the higher animal welfare business, so I hope Prop 12 and Question 3 create a platform for discussion for change. I understand that we can’t have a rule for every state—that would be impossible. I hope that, instead of consistently rejecting everything the industry proposes, we can reach agreements to make the next generations happy.
5.) You are known to be handy on the grill. What’s your favorite cut of meat to cook?
Bone-in pork butt and brisket with my homemade rub. Inject some flavoring and smoke it low-and-slow on the ole Kamado Joe.
Stay tuned for our 5 Questions series of interviews.
Due to popular demand, DecisionNext will offer a series of monthly interviews. We’ll catch up with influential leaders, movers, and shakers to get the pulse on the latest in the industry.
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