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Detroit-based Safari Meats grows with Meijer deal

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

The story of Safari Meats is one of determination. That, and a good blend of seasoning. 

Knowing he wanted to be in business for himself, owner Max Doggett started his brand about eight years ago. His first break came from James Hooks, owner of one of the city's only Black-owned grocery stories, Metro Foods. 

Safari Meats owner Max Doggett.

He would allow Doggett to use the facility to create his product — Kick'n Chicken Sausage — but also showed him how the grocery store industry works, which days and times were the busiest and how to engage customers. Doggett started doing cooking demos on Sundays, filling the store with the aroma of his seasoned chicken sausages. 

He kept pushing and networking and that got him into a few more local indie stores. In 2015 got an MBA from the University of Phoenix at night while simultaneously working 12 hours days.

Dogget, who said he's the only Black business doing chicken sausage, eventually got into Eastern Market on Sundays and Tuesdays, after showing up on Flower Day — the busiest day of the year for the urban market — to try to pitch the idea. He eventually got in, and was exposed to a bigger audience who could taste, smell and purchase his product all in one spot. He routinely sold out. 

The Safari Meats' line of Kick'n Chicken Sausage is sold in packs of four. Doggett also sells chicken sausage breakfast links and diced chicken sausage, which is good for pizza toppings or using in recipes. 

"You have to know how to season food," he said, adding that his wife, Shelley Doggett, who helps him with the business, likes a heavy hand when it comes to seasoning. The chicken has a bit of a heat to it as the name implies, but it's nothing the average palate can't enjoy. 

"Our flavors are designed to take your taste buds on a journey," he said in reference to the name "Safari Meats." "That’s why people keep coming back for more. They love the journey.”

He said the secret to the popularity is the proprietary blend of seasoning, word of mouth and pushing the brand via social media.

Now, his product in three Meijer stores. He got his foot in the door during a basic shopping trip when he spotted someone in a suit, chatted him up and it turned out to be the regional manager. Safari Meats' first deal was with the new Woodward Corner Market, followed by the Meijer at Eight Mile and Woodward and Six Mile and Grand River. 

He said he was initially asked to bring in a case of each of this three products to the Woodward Corners store earlier this year, but he brought three of each instead, knowing that it would sell. 

"I know what my product can do," he said, adding that after a weekend demo he sold out of everything in just a few days. "In one month I had sold a total of 27 cases, even with my product being three dollars higher than the national brand of chicken sausage. I had people putting down the national brand and taking mine home and paying the three dollars extra because it tastes that good." 

Safari Meats Kick'n Chicken Sausage

Once COVID-19 hit and he wasn't able to showcase the heated product with in-store demos, and sales dipped, but he still managed to add his product to two more Meijer stores. Sadly, because of the pandemic this month was the first time he's had to buy back any product. He's also had to put his Eastern Market appearances on hold because of a recent car accident that left him walking with a cane. 

He's using this as an opportunity to give back, getting the cases he can't sell in stores fast enough to local food banks and the Detroit Rescue Mission. 

Doggett said his most recent goal was to get certified as a minority business, which involves a lot of paperwork, but will open up more national retailers' doors for Safari Meats. Now that he's in a few Meijer stores, he can also start working on his next step: national distribution.

Twitter: @melodybaetens