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Spam shoppers went Y2K crazy Fears led lunch meat to record year in sales

By DION LEFLER Knight Ridder WICHITA, Kan. -- It was the dawn of a new millennium, and untold thousands of Americans thought the clock was running out on civilization.

So they bought Spam - lots and lots of Spam.

The spike in sales of the durable - but oft-derided - canned lunch meat was the launching point for a record-breaking fiscal year for Hormel Foods.

About 275 workers at a Wichita, Kan., meat-processing plant got checks this month for about $1,000 each - their share of the company's annual profits.

"You can imagine with Y2K and all that how many cans of Spam (Hormel) sold," said Al Lieberum, plant manager for Dold Foods in Wichita, a Hormel subsidiary. A memo to employees from Hormel President Joel Johnson congratulated the workers on their response to what he called "the phenomenon of Y2K."

When millennial anxiety passed, the canned-meat market tanked. But increased sales of bacon and other value-added fresh pork products more than made up the difference, said Michael McCoy, vice president and controller for Hormel Foods.

"It was just a good overall successful year in terms of the company," he said.

Hormel gives an annual profit-sharing bonus to all employees with a full year of service.

This year, record profits brought a record bonus of $10.7million companywide. About $300,000 of that went to the Wichita plant, Lieberum said.

Broad smiles passed across many of the workers' faces as they saw the size of this year's profit-sharing check - the equivalent of 22/3 times their weekly pay.

"I'll pay some bills and try to get some Christmas gifts," said Sharon Gresham, a 20-year employee of the plant. A co-worker, Jennefer Vo, said she planned to bank some of it and donate some to her church.

Huong Tran had a simple plan: "Wal-Mart."

The Wichita plant produces about 1.5 million pounds of bacon a year. In addition, workers here debone hams, which are sent to other plants for more processing, Lieberum said.

Sales of Black Label bacon from the Wichita plant rose after the company changed its packaging from cardboard boxes with windows to a transparent plastic shrink-wrap that allows customers to see all the slices, Lieberum and McCoy said.

The profit-sharing checks were passed out at a Thanksgiving lunch of turkey and, of course, ham.

But there wasn't a slice of Spam in sight.

-- Martin Thompson (, November 30, 2000


Take one down, you get the picture. Not really bad stuff. Hold over from my poorer days. You can take the person out of poverty, but you cannot take the poverty, out of the person. Poverty really wasn't a horrible ride. Fried bologne, anyone?

-- Good For Them! (, November 30, 2000.

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