September 25, 2017

As meat industry faces challenges, online sales give Martin Rosol's national appeal

Photos | Contributed
Photos | Contributed
Ted Rosol (left) and his brother Tim Rosol (right) carry on the family owned businesses meat-making tradition. Retail store manager Janine Dehm (center) shows off meat samplings.
Martin Rosolís has expanded beyond its storefronts to selling its meats online, giving it access to a much wider customer base. Rosolís kielbasa (shown below) is a customer favorite.

Online Checkout

Here are some of the meat products Martin Rosol's sells online:

• Patties

• Kielbasa

• Kellies

• Frankfurters

• Veal Loaf

Martin Rosol's President Sarah Rosol recalls a loyal customer who made weekly meat runs from South Carolina to Connecticut. After he and his wife moved from New Britain he complained to friends that he couldn't find a decent hot dog. So, whenever he made the 12-and-a-half-hour trek north to the Rosol's store he brought back four, three-pound boxes of meat.

Such long hauls are no longer necessary for Rosol's fanatics since the 89-year-old family business launched online sales six years ago.

It's a decision that may have kept the company afloat during a tumultuous last decade for the state's meat-producing industry.

Martin Rosol's began selling its kielbasa, hot dogs and luncheon meats from a garage in 1928. Fast forward to 2011 when the New Britain company, responding to requests from former state residents, started selling its meats on the internet ( Initially, the online store boasted customers in 22 states. Today, its products are available online in all 48 contiguous states.

The transition to a larger internet footprint, however, has been a challenge. At the start, the website was run by a family member in Maryland. Products were sent to him, and then shipped to customers. Because most Rosol meats need to be sent fresh, shipping time had to be shortened.

"We also needed to reach more online customers," said Tim Rosol, the company's plant manager.

Most online orders came from Florida and the Carolinas and were from former central Connecticut residents who had retired down south. A boost came when friends and neighbors in these retirement states sampled the meats and began ordering online.

To meet consumer demands, and maintain a fresh product, Rosol's started shipping directly from New Britain by UPS in bulk, one day a week on Wednesdays. Customers now receive their ice-packed meats on Friday.

"We get a volume discount by shipping this way," Tim Rosol explained, "rather than ship fewer orders on various week days."

A typical Rosol's order consists of kielbasa and hot dog items and, before shipping, runs between $25 and $75. Rosol's hasn't ruled out marketing online to Alaska and Hawaii, but at present the shipping cost — depending on location — is prohibitive. The company plans doing more Facebook marketing as well.

"Mostly we've been word of mouth, but we could do more with social media," Tim Rosol said.

Though online sales account for only 5 percent of the business, Ted Rosol, the company's general manager, insists it's an important component, "one we want to expand on." Overall, annual company revenues are $4.1 million.

He doesn't anticipate opening store locations in other states in the near future. However, an in-state marketing effort is currently aimed at getting Rosol's products into more shoreline shops.

Hummel Brothers of New Haven is Rosol's major shoreline and online competitor.

"Though it may sound funny, we're happy to see a family business like theirs thrive," Ted Rosol said. "We feel there are enough hot dogs and kielbasa for everyone."

Industry changes

Rosol's employs 24 people today, but experienced a major loss in April when its president and owner Robert Rosol died at age 57. His widow, Sarah, now leads the company, while her sons have taken on larger roles.

Meat producers in Connecticut have faced a challenging environment over the last decade. Some have even been forced to close their doors.

Bloomfield's Grote & Weigel, whose history dates back to 1890, shuttered for a short time in late 2011 before it was acquired and reopened by Massachusetts-based Racheal's Food Corp. in Feb. 2012. Racheal's also acquired Hartford's struggling E.E. Mucke's & Sons later that year.

Both brands are still available but from a different meat processor.

The 2008 recession fueled a sudden rise in meat prices; the price jump was caused in part by escalating corn prices driven by a demand for ethanol. Then, too, customers were looking for less expensive meats, putting a squeeze on meat-maker's sales.

When asked if industry challenges pose a threat to his company, Ted Rosol shakes his head. Grote & Weigel and E.E. Mucke's & Sons didn't sell their meats online like Rosol's chose to do. He also stresses that Rosol's is prepared for volatile meat prices, a constant factor in their business. Raw material prices in the meat business can skyrocket overnight. However, Rosol relies on strategic planning and smart pricing.

"We've found that our customers will pay more for premium meat products that aren't mass produced," Ted Rosol said. "Wholesale prices have to be high enough to absorb rising supplier costs and low enough to be competitive without pricing ourselves out of the market. Because we use higher-quality raw material our customers have been okay paying a bit more per pound."

With Martin Rosol's, it's about sustaining a family tradition. "It's doing what we do best rather than selling out to a business conglomerate," said Ted Rosol.

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