By Kristen Miller
COKATO, MN - Since its purchase of Northland Canning Company in 1969, Faribault Foods Inc., Cokato, has expanded operations from just canning corn to the production of 254 different products.
The big shift came in 1994, when the plant began canning pasta year-round beginning with one line and one shift four days a week, according to plant manager Alan Anderson.
That was when Faribault’s employee roster doubled from nine to 20.
Now, there are 150 workers employed by Faribault, Cokato, year-round, with 20 additional seasonal workers.
It has now become the second- leading canned pasta producer in the country behind the first, ConAgra Foods, the makers of Manwich and Chef Boyardee to name a few.
In 1999, Faribault Foods began producing organic soup. It is now the leading producer of organic soups in the country, with labels such as Wolfgang Puck.
In 2004, the plant added the production of chili.
A good share of Faribault Foods business is private label or store brands, which have seen a surge recently because of the economy.
Because national brands tend to cost more than store brands, people in today’s economy are looking for easy ways to trim down their spending.
“Consumers want to wisely spend their money,” Anderson said, and they are finding that the store brand isn’t much different than the name brand.
“Generic products have come a long way since they first came out,” Anderson said, adding generic products aren’t even called as such anymore.
Anderson explained, companies like Faribault can take the ingredients found on a label and through trial and testing, can make the same product.
This is done by Faribault’s research and development team, based out the Cokato facility.
Though it’s a long process to make a similar product taste and look the same as the leading brand without a recipe, major distributors, such as Wal-Mart for example, won’t buy anything that isn’t as good as the real thing, Anderson explained.
Aldi is another example of a private label. Faribault is one of the producers for the Chicago-based grocer’s products.
What has also helped Faribault Foods in recent years is the increased efficiency of the plant.
Each day, there are six lines running, three first shift and three second shift. With quicker start-ups and change-overs and more efficient running time, Faribault has been able to reduce one line.
Last year at this time, there were 187 employees, now due to attrition and increased efficiency, they are able to run with 150 employees.
Shifts are from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. four days a week, with a four-hour sanitation process between shifts, Anderson explained.
The goal is to continue growing the business by 75 percent in five years, Anderson said.
Though there is nothing currently on the drawing board, Anderson can see some from of expansion in the future, whether that be adding more products or capital by either building or purchasing equipment.
“The company is always looking for opportunities, but they have to work for us,” Anderson said.
Faribault Foods Inc. is a third-generation, family-owned business.
“Very few family-owned businesses can last longer than the second generation,” Anderson said, adding the company is very financially stable and has been well-managed throughout the years.
Anderson has worked for Faribault Food for 40 years without any thoughts of retirement in the near future.
There are three other locations besides the Cokato plant.
There is the main plant in Faribault, the producer of bean products; the Elk River plant, the fruit juice producing plant; and a Minneapolis office, where the current owner and CEO, Reid MacDonald, works out of.
Faribault was recently in the news for its generous giving to its employees.
Each of its 600 employees received a “stimulus” bonus of $250 with their paychecks along with a note asking them to spend the money locally if possible.
Each year, for the Cokato Corn Carnival, Faribault Foods donates the corn for the event. Last year, more than 12 tons of corn was served.
Also, the Faribault Chamber of Commerce recently named Faribault Foods as its 2008 business of the year.