Not a common occurrence outside Austin

Published 7:01 am Sunday, February 5, 2017

Even though he’s a Green Bay Packer, many folks in Minnesota Vikings territory laughed when a Muscle Milk advertisement showed Clay Matthews lending a helping hand to various athletes while mouthing the words to the song “Lean on Me.”

This was one of a series of ads shown during last week’s Hormel Foods Corp.’s annual meeting, and the showings of Hormel brand commercials has become a favorite for local shareholders attending the annual meeting.

Now I write about Hormel’s annual meeting not to make any statement about the company. I write about it because it struck me while covering this year’s event how commonplace the annual meeting has become, though it’s far from common for most communities.

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Hormel Foods Corp. CEO Jim Snee said Hormel leaders often refer to the shareholders meeting as “the social event of the year,” and a few minutes before going on stage, Snee joked about his neighbor texting him to wish him good luck and say he should come over for a hockey game.

In the days leading to the meeting, we heard people chatting up about the meeting more like it’s a social gathering than a business event.

Snee and Chairman of the Board Jeff Ettinger, the retired Hormel CEO who also serves on other food boards, noted many other companies have much simpler shareholders meetings that are just an hour-long meeting in a conference room.

And while the meeting is the company’s annual pitch to investors about the company’s direction, it doesn’t just serve the top investors. Anyone with a single share of Hormel stock can attend.

Sure, you can also see a usual row of Austin community leaders near the front of the crowd looking on.

But looking around the crowds at Austin High School’s Knowlton Auditorium and the overflow room in Ove Berven Gym, most of the faces are common area folks who’ve invested in their local company. Others are teenagers and young people checking out the annual event.

Now around Austin, many people love Hormel and many people love to question Hormel. I’m not saying this to sway anyone to one side or the other.

After covering multiple Hormel shareholders meetings, it had gotten to be commonplace. Looking around Tuesday night as I waited for the meeting to start, I had a momentary realization: Oh yeah, this sort of thing isn’t common to most towns like Austin.