DAKOTA DUNES — Beef Products Inc. fought for years to clear its name in court. The Dakota Dunes-based firm, which settled a landmark $1.9 billion defamation suit in June 2017, is now changing its corporate name as the next generation takes the reins of the family-owned business.
The maker of lean beef announced Monday it has adopted “Empirical” as the new moniker for its family of companies.
As part of the transition, BPI founders Eldon and Regina Roth have stepped away from day-to-day management of the companies. Their son, Nick, has taken over as president of Empirical Innovations Inc. and Empirical Technology Inc., and their son-in-law, Craig Letch, has been named president of Empirical Foods Inc. The Roths’ daughter, Jennifer Letch, will serve as an executive officer in each companies.
“Nick, Jennifer, and Craig have been part of our senior management team for more than 10 years and we have every confidence that they will lead the companies to new heights in the very near future,” Eldon and Regina Roth said in a statement. “Their commitment to and passion for this industry and our community is both refreshing and reassuring.”
Jennifer Letch said the new name “really reflects our core principles of communication, cooperation, and innovation.”
“Empirical means “proven or verified by experience” and the empirical process is really what every day is like in this company,” Letch said in a statement. “As we often say, ‘We know how to do things, because we do things.’ ”
The transition in top leadership comes nearly two years after the company reached a confidential settlement with ABC News and correspondent Jim Avila. The case, which went to trial in June 2017 in Union County, S.D., stemmed from a series of reports the network aired in March and April 2012 which BPI claimed spread false information about the company and its BPI’s lean finely textured beef. Particularly damaging, the company said, was the repeated use of the unappetizing epithat “pink slime” to describe LFTB.
The Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC, reported a $177 million litigation settlement for the quarter that ended days after the network settled. Disney’s insurance carriers are thought to have paid an additional sum to BPI.
The Roths devoted a portion of the settlement to establish a $10 million fund to benefit hundreds of former workers were affected by plant closures in 2012 in Waterloo, Iowa; Amarillo, Texas; and Garden City, Kansas.
Eldon and Regina Roth founded BPI in 1976 in Texas and moved the headquarters to Dakota Dunes in 1993. They opened the flagship plant in South Sioux City in 1998. The family business grew from a small entity into the world’s largest supplier of lean beef. At its peak, BPI’s products were found in as much as 90 percent of the U.S. ground beef, including the nation’s largest fast-food restaurants.
“For almost four decades, we have dedicated ourselves to building these companies and we could never have achieved the level of success we have enjoyed without the support and dedication of our family, employees, customers and community,” the founders said in a statement. Thanks to all those who have contributed to these accomplishments.”
Eldon Roth, a South Dakota native, developed a proprietary process that separated lean bits of beef from fatty trimmings left over after slaughter houses carved carcasses into steaks, roasts and other cuts. After being heated, the lean meat was separated from the fat with a centrifuge before being treated with small amounts of ammonium hydroxide gas to kill E. coli and other potentially deadly pathogens.
“Mom and Dad built these remarkably successful companies through their hard work, determination, and the help of many other team members,” Nick Roth said in a statement. “We are excited to have the opportunity to continue in their footsteps and expand upon the creativity that has always been a hallmark of our companies.”
In 2012, the “pink slime” controversy caused a slump in LFTB sales after panicked consumers began calling grocery stores and asking LFTB be taken off the shelf. In its defamation suit, the company claimed it lost $700 million in profit and $1.2 billion in lost business value.
The fallout from the ABC stories and ongoing litigation challenged BPI to diversify its product line, not leaning so heavily on LFTB sales, which have yet to return to 2012 levels. BPI recently launched Dos Rios, a line of seasoned, precooked beef for use in tacos, nachos and other Mexican foods.
Craig Letch said the company also is producing fully cooked eggs, Bolognese/pasta sauce and a line of fresh-portioned cuts of beef and pork. There also are plans to “further diversify by bringing consumers new fully cooked meal options in the future.”
LFTB traditionally was mixed with fattier ground beef to create a more lean product. Last December, BPI won approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to label its signature product simply as ground beef. The FSIS considers it a new product since the manufacturing process has evolved substantially since 2012.