The OSI Group: From Chicago Butcher Shop To Global Food Company

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The OSI Group is a quintessential American success story. Founded by German immigrant Otto Kolschowsky in 1909 as a neighborhood meat market in Illinois, the company has grown into a leading multinational food production company. Initially staffed by Kolschowsky and his sons, the company now has over 20,000 workers in 17 countries running more than 70 food processing facilities. This has enabled it to have a growing presence and impact on the modern, globalized food production industry that is evolving. The company’s focus on high quality, nutritious products, excellent customer service and thoughtful ‘green’ practices sets it apart.

Kolschowsky had only been in the U.S. two years when he opened his butcher shop and meat market in Oak Park, on Chicago’s west side. Chicago was developing a reputation as the City of the Big Shoulders, Stacker of Wheat and Hog Butcher for the World, as Carl Sandberg would later describe it. Ten years later, Kolschowsky expanded the business to include wholesale meat and moved the meat market to Maywood Illinois, a Chicago suburb. By 1928 he had changed the company’s name to Otto & Sons. In the 1950’s, his sons, Arthur and Harry, entered a handshake agreement with Ray Kroc to provide his McDonald’s franchise with fresh ground beef.

When McDonald’s grew into a major national brand, supplying the growing company with fresh ground beef patties became Otto & Sons‘ primary focus. The company also began providing top cuts of meats for supermarkets and restaurants in the Chicago area. Otto & Sons purchased flash freezing technology in the 1960s and increased the number of private companies for which it provided private label branded meat. By 1973, Otto & Sons was providing ground beef for many McDonald’s franchises and had created a subsidiary called Glenmark to provide meat for all of its other customers.

After Arthur and Harry Kolschowsky retired, financial consultant and former banker Sheldon Lavin began running the company. He changed the name to the OSI Group and took the company global. Soon it had production facilities in Austria, Australia, Brazil, Hungary, Mexico, Poland and Spain. In the 1980s, Lavin shifted his focus to the Pacific Rim. The OSI Group built facilities and gained millions of customers in China, India, Japan, the Philippines and Taiwan.

In 2016, Forbes ranked the OSI Group, the former Chicago meat market, as America’s 58th largest privately owned company with $6.1 billion in revenue.

 

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