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Published: Saturday, 10/1/2005

100 workers to celebrate Fremont Co.'s 100th year

BY MARY-BETH McLAUGHLIN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Annete Salinas works on the production line in the Fremont Co. s processing plant.
Annete Salinas works on the production line in the Fremont Co. s processing plant.
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FREMONT - Meat for grilling won't be the only thing on the menu today as the Fremont Co.'s 100 employees gather to celebrate the company's 100th anniversary.

Also to be served will be ketchup, sauerkraut, and barbecue sauce as the company showcases the items that are helping it grow, especially in foreign markets, where executives expect sales to hit at least $2.5 million next year.

"We'll have all the products there," said Chris Smith, vice president of marketing for the company, which has a sauerkraut-making facility in Fremont and a ketchup plant in Rockford, south of Van Wert.

The food processor was founded in 1905 as the Fremont Kraut Co. by Allen Slessman, and his descendants are still in charge.

Today the firm has several niches, said Mr. Smith.

It makes ketchup that is sold under house brands at supermarket chains such as the Kroger Co; it serves as a subcontractor for other marketers which have their own recipes for ketchup but need help with bottling, and it makes and sells sauerkraut to food-service companies.

Company labels include Frank's Totally Tomato Ketchup and Mississippi Barbecue Sauce, sold in places like Sam's Club and area restaurants.

All of the ketchup work is done at the Rockford plant, which ships 180,000 bottles a day. The condiment is made from tomato paste brought in by rail from California.

The Fremont Co. also makes and sells Frank's Quality Kraut and Snowfloss brand sauerkraut, much of which ends up at food-service companies through a distribution deal with Heinz Co., which delivers the Fremont product along with its own ketchup to such places as Fifth Third Field in Toledo.

Mr. Smith estimated that the ketchup and barbecue side of the business accounts for about two-thirds of the company's sales, while sauerkraut production accounts for the rest.

The Rockford operation has been renovated "into a highly modernized plant" that has allowed Fremont Co. to increase its exports of ketchup from $267,000 in 2002 to $1.73 million last year. Exports are projected to hit $2.5 million by the middle of next year, said Mr. Smith. He declined to give revenue figures for the entire company.

"You sit back and look at your business and try to find opportunities in underdeveloped areas," he said. "We talk about what people are eating, and since there's been a proliferation of American fast food around the world you now have kids clamoring for ketchup everywhere."

The company currently sells direct to grocery chains and through distributors in Canada, Mexico, and Australia, as well as in South America and the Middle East, and was recently awarded the State of Ohio Excellence in Exporting Award by Gov. Bob Taft for increasing sales through exports.

Mr. Smith anticipates that the company will continue to grow that side of its business, but said he also expects sauerkraut sales to increase as more people discover its health benefits.

"We're not really trying to reinvent the wheel. We're interested in optimizing what we do now," said Mr. Smith.

Contact Mary-Beth McLaughlin at

mmclaughlin@theblade.com

or 419-724-6199.



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