Ethics, integrity, and stewardship are behind every move made by Clemens Food Group, a 6th-generation pork producer from Hatfield, Penn. Over the years, the family expanded from processing pork products into packing and distributing, logistics, hog management, transportation, and real estate. Today, they serve food service, retail, and consumers in the Atlantic and Midwest under the umbrella of Clemens Food Group.
Leading with Values
Family values and principles were the foundation of the Clemens family’s ESG efforts long before the term was coined. In 1895, John C. Clemens began transporting meat and poultry from his small Hatfield farm to a market in Philadelphia. There he met other farmers and merchants and became part of a community rooted in sustainable commerce. Goods were sold farm-to-table, and John himself often returned home to Hatfield with a wagon full of fresh produce to sell locally and share with his family. This communal spirit and purposeful mindset helped John find early success, which is still present today, woven into all facets of the business.
The family’s strong faith and values are their guiding light. This is essential for the more than 370 shareholders and nearly 5,000 “team members” that make up Clemens Food Group.
“Our family values guide us to do the right thing, do what we say we will, and to build a foundation for what’s to come,” said Brad Clemens (G5), President of Clemens Food Group.
The family considers itself stewards, rather than owners, of the business, with the goal of passing it down from one generation to the next. And in being good stewards, they understand there’s more to business than profitability.
Doing what’s right.
Because so much of the business is tied to the meat industry, Clemens focuses their ESG practices on the environment, employee safety, animal care and well-being, and food safety. The family enterprise works to educate and certify farm team members and consciously aligns with organizations monitoring quality and care. All these efforts are grounded in ethical and fair business practices.
The company takes pride in the welfare of its animals. In 1987, a renowned expert in animal husbandry, Dr. Temple Grandin, was hired to design housing pens to meet the highest standards for animal welfare. The company has since instituted crate-free gestation pens for all their internal and contracted supply farms, with the goal of 100% compliance by the end of 2022. This gives the animals greater freedom of movement. The organization is also currently exploring and converting its pens for open breeding.
Clemens Food Group works hard to reduce its water use. In doing so, they’ve developed a recirculation system that repurposes water and controls waste. Since 2018, they’ve reduced their fresh water use by more than 50 gallons per hog (the company houses approximately 6.2 million hogs at any time).
Following through on commitments.
When it comes to decision-making, the leadership team follows the saying of Clemens Food Group’s non-family CEO Craig Edsill, “Discuss. Decide. Support.” The leadership team shared that they spend much time in the “discuss” phase, gathering input and looking for opportunities for alignment. This ranges from business-related decisions to social responsibility. In addition to their focus on animal welfare, the Clemens family has a deep connection to employee engagement, employee care, and social causes that are meaningful to their workforce. In fact, the company gives 10% of its profits to surrounding communities.
“We put our social efforts toward feeding the hungry, human needs, crises, and disasters,” said Craig. “Taking care of our team members, and the community in which they live and work, is the right thing to do.”
They’ve focused on recruiting, retention, and training efforts, raised wages, opened a wellness center, and created assistance funds for employees in need. They’ve also created internal resource groups, including the NOW women’s group and BLEND: Black, Latinos Employee Network for Development. These groups provide additional opportunities for team members to connect and develop, emphasizing diversity and inclusion.
“When we opened our Hatfield Plant in Coldwater, Michigan, we found there wasn’t enough housing for potential team members,” shared Brad. “So, we got into the housing business, opening up a 212-unit apartment building.”
The family likes to say, “It’s just not about providing; it’s about facilitating change.” They told us that many of their team members arrived on visa programs seeking asylum from other countries. Many start in temporary housing, and because of their work at Clemens and the opportunities afforded to them, they go on to become homeowners themselves.
Building a foundation for the future.
The Clemens family has had critical moments in their history that led them to where they are today. In the 1940s, a fire broke out at their Pleasant Valley Packing facility, burning the entire plant to the ground. Faced with a crossroads of exiting the business or starting over, the family stayed strong, acquired a new farm, and persevered.
As the family and business grew and became more complex, it became apparent that changes needed to be made to keep the business going. In the late 1990s, they transitioned from a “family business” to a “business family,” handing over day-to-day control to the management team.
The company’s fiduciary Board of Directors—composed of family and independent members—provides oversight that helps guide the business and shared accountability for the family shareholders and other stakeholders. The company conducts an annual valuation and reports out like a public company. The family has a unique shareholder structure: spouses are allowed to own stock, and family members are allowed to sell stock for schooling, to aid in the purchase of a house, or give stock to charity. In addition, the company provides preferred dividends for retirement-aged shareholders.
The Clemens family’s sophisticated governance model also includes a family communications team, the Clemens family trustees, and the Clemens family academy for younger generations to learn about the family and business history. There is a strong focus on communication, education, and engagement in all areas.
“Governance is a journey that evolves every year,” said Brad. “Our current philosophy is to ensure everyone has a bigger understanding of the ‘why and how’ to keep everyone on the same page. People will come up with their own stories if you don't communicate yours.”
Clemens Food Group’s Advice
- Lean into your family values. When you align with your family’s mission, vision, and values, everything else can fall into place.
- Take stock in what you’re already doing. Pull the details together and tell the story.
- Follow passion. Team members are more likely to support and get involved with efforts they care about. Find out what causes and organizations your people are involved in and what they are passionate about, then see how it can be incorporated into your current or future ESG efforts.
“All of our work focuses on passing the baton to future generations and seeing how we can leave the world better than we’ve found it,” added Brad.