Carving Out a Niche During COVID-19, Texas Tech Department of Animal and Food Sciences Proves It’s a Cut Above the Rest

Raider Red Meats- FTF
Raider Red Meats, a retail meat store at Texas Tech University, carved out a niche during the pandemic, proving Texas Tech University Department of Animal and Food Sciences is a cut above the rest. ( Austin Moore )

Behind the doors at Texas Tech University Department of Animal and Food Sciences, students and faculty have found a recipe of success. 

“We've been growing at 16% a year since 2008,” says Michael Orth, department chair. “And this year, in 2020, even with the pandemic, we actually have reached 1,000 undergraduate students for the first time in our history.”

Orth and others within the department at Texas Tech University are also celebrating success beyond the classroom.

“It was a huge switch over to a lot of the staples: ground beef, chuck, roast, round roast, things like that,” says Tate Corliss, director of Raider Red Meats at Texas Tech University.

Raider Red Meats is a retail meat store at Texas Tech University, and one run by students.

“I have to brag on them,” says Wendy Woerner, sales manager at Raider Red Meats. “They're the elite group on campus, and we have students from all across the board: ag economics, ag communications, and a lot of our students are animal and food science students here in the department.”

Those students shined even during the pandemic, not even skipping a beat when they were being called on to serve a growing need.

“They really stepped up to the plate, and they were essential during this time for us,” Woerner says.

“It was quite a crazy time,” says Keith Shoemake, a senior at Texas Tech University. “All of a sudden, we just saw a real cut in personnel. We couldn't have as many workers here due to university policy, but we did have to keep working, because we do uphold contracts with places such as United Supermarkets and U.S. foods.”

As the pandemic threw the meat supply chain into chaos, Raider Red Meats carved out a new niche.

“We did that by moving to a lot of curbside home deliveries, and just adapting our model completely,” says Corliss.

“They were dealing with a new type of customer need,” says Woerner. “Customers were coming in and calling in and they wanted to pick up a curbside order, our students really stepped up to the plate, they were willing to put that mask on and go out and greet that customer and take good care of them.”

The students not only served up success in that transition, but Woerner says they did so with class.

“We just got a comment the other day from an elderly lady in our community, and she said, ‘I just want you to know that your students always show up, they put their mask on, and I can tell they're smiling behind it, and they deliver it to my door and they're so respectful.’ So, I’m so proud of them.”

The surge in demand came in many forms, including the overwhelming need for consumers trying to locate meat.

“We had people just with high demand, coming in and wanting like 80 pounds of 80/20 ground beef in a given trip,” says Shoemake. “It was just a crazy demand that I never thought I'd see in my lifetime.”

The overflowing demand wasn’t just at the retail meat counter, but also in calls for custom harvesting.

“We had this long list of requests of people to harvest their animals, because they were canceled at larger processors or their normal processor was completely backed up,” says Corliss. “We just took it upon ourselves to prepare our students for the industry that they were about to go in and adapt as best we can.”

Raider Red Meats adjusted protocols to keep safety top of mind, while also meeting that new demand.  

“Typically, we do around 30 to 40 custom animals a year, as it fits with our teaching model, and we've done about 190 from March until we are today,” he adds.

For Orth, the work done during the pandemic highlights how the university is preparing students for a field of opportunities.

“Raider Red Meats is just a prime example of that high-impact learning experience so that they can get here,” says Orth.

Even as some departments are focused on a majority of online courses this fall, Orth says this department is 75-to-80% in-person learning.

“We fight for that because our motto is ‘discovering solutions, empowering students and serving society,’” he says. “With that high-impact learning experience, which is something that our students need, we were going to do whatever it took in order to make that possible for our students.”

From the teachings today, to lessons learned during the pandemic, it’s those learnings that could now extend into their careers.

“We have 100% placement in the industry or back into academia into a graduate program,” says Woerner. “They're going to do great things.”

Hands on learning, even as the pandemic pushed meat processing in disarray, proving Texas Tech’s Department of Animal and Food Sciences continues to be a cut above the rest.