Lakeside Foods, Inc.
Lakeside Foods, Inc.
Incorporated: 1888 as Albert Landreth Seed Company
Sales: $300 million (2006 est.)
NAIC: 311411 Frozen Fruit, Juice, and Vegetable Manufacturing; 311412 Frozen Specialty Food Manufacturing; 311421 Fruit and Vegetable Canning; 311422 Specialty Canning; 311423 Dried and Dehydrated Food Manufacturing; 424490 Other Grocery and Related Product Merchant Wholesalers
Lakeside Foods, Inc., is one of the largest private-label food products companies in the United States, processing a wide variety of canned and frozen vegetables for grocery brands such as IGA, Food Club, and Roundy’s. The company’s line of canned goods includes peas, corn, green beans, wax beans, beets, carrots, potatoes, and lima beans, all available in a variety of mixes, cuts, and styles. In addition to the standard peas, corn, carrots, and green beans, frozen vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, okra, spinach, and a variety of blends. Fruit products include jams, jellies, and frozen berries. Lakeside produces frozen nondairy whipped topping and canned beef, pork, and luncheon meats. Specialized products for private-label customers include Dinty Moore stews and Spam slices for Hormel Foods Corporation and Chi-Chi’s salsa. Lakeside Foods operates ten food processing plants and eight distribution centers. International customers in 14 countries are served through an office in Thailand.
WISCONSIN’S FIRST CANNERY
Albert Landreth, founder of the predecessor company to Lakeside Foods, hailed from Bristol, Pennsylvania, where his family owned and operated D. Landreth Seed Company, growing pea seeds for pea farmers and canners on the East Coast. Albert Landreth relocated to Wisconsin during the 1870s for the purpose of overseeing the production of pea seeds for the family business. Landreth surmised that the rich loam soil of the Midwest could provide the basis for cultivating better quality peas for canning as well as for seeds. Having no experience in canning food, in 1883, he began to experiment. He worked in the kitchen of a small hotel owned by his mother-in-law in Manitowoc, on the shore of Lake Michigan. There Landreth completed small batches of canned peas without benefit of electricity. For the first few seasons, he hand-filled the cans with peas through a one and three-eighth inch hole in the top of each can, then hammered and soldered a tin cap over the hole before cooking the peas in the can. In 1887 Landreth built a canning plant at the site of the hotel and installed an automatic filling machine that poured peas in 12 cans simultaneously. That year, Landreth produced his first large pack of peas and sold it to local markets under the name Lakeside. After the second season of production at the Manitowoc plant, Landreth formally organized the company along with four business associates as its board of directors, incorporating as the Albert Landreth Seed Company, the first cannery in Wisconsin.
Despite the company name, seed production quickly became a secondary concern as Landreth sought to improve product quality and the speed of food packing. The resulting increase in processing capacity allowed the company to expand its farming capacity to 75 acres by 1889. The following year, Landreth Seed opened a second canning facility in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Further development of consistent quality canned peas occurred through the application of food science and innovative production methods. In 1894, with assistance from Dr. H. L. Russell of the College of Agriculture at the University of Wisconsin, Landreth began to develop techniques for the systematic control of timing and temperature in order to can peas at their peak of flavor and to reduce spoilage. To reflect this increasing emphasis on canning, the company name changed to The Albert Landreth Company in 1896.
After Landreth’s unexpected death in 1899, The Albert Landreth Company underwent numerous changes. The board of directors appointed Dr. Alexander Frazier, Landreth’s physician and the executor of his estate, as president of the company. With more competitors in canning, Frazier sought to strengthen its position in Wisconsin peas through the acquisition of the East Wisconsin Canning Company in 1902. In 1906, Wisconsin Pea Canners acquired The Albert Landreth Company and combined the assets with those of the E. J. Vaudreuil Canning Company, of Two Rivers. Charles Gillett became president of Wisconsin while Dr. Frazier continued to manage the original Landreth operations and Vaudreuil oversaw the Two Rivers plant. Wisconsin Pea continued to market goods under the Lakeside brands. In 1907 Gillett and the other company officers hired Louis Wedertz, formerly a wholesale grocer, with the intention that he would learn all aspects of the vegetable canning operation. In 1909 he succeeded Frazier, who retired, and by the late 1910s, Wedertz managed all of the daily operations.
Wedertz implemented significant changes which facilitated expansion. Previously, Landreth had rented or leased land from farmers to grow peas. However in 1909, to ensure an adequate supply of high quality vegetables, Wisconsin Pea began to contract farmers to grow the crops; farmers received a premium for the best quality peas. That year, the company’s farming base covered 4,000 acres. Also, the supply of peas increased when a drought in 1909 prompted experimentation with a second planting of peas late in the season. Afterward, staggered planting times and secondary planting became standard. The increased acreage prompted the company to expand its product line to include green beans, tomatoes, pumpkins, and cabbages. The company opened a cannery in Reedsville in 1910 and additional canneries in Amery and Turtle Lake in 1911; however, the Reedsville facility closed in 1914.
The canning industry expanded rapidly during the 1910s, and Wisconsin became an important center of the industry. Competition intensified with new brands and home canning, and Wedertz focused the company on product quality and efficient operations at Wisconsin Peas’ five plants to meet that competition. Moreover, he foresaw further opportunities for growth that prompted him to approach the board of directors with a proposal to combine the original Landreth assets with his interests in three pickling plants located in Illinois and a corn canning plant in Plainview, Minnesota. At a meeting in September 1921, the board of directors agreed to the merger. Hence, Wedertz transferred ownership of the Illinois and Plainview plants to a new company, Lakeside Canning and Pickling Company. Wedertz became the primary owner of the company, paying $13,236 in order to obtain 501 shares. Two Wedertz family members and two board members obtained one share each. In August 1922, the transactions were finalized, along with the purchase of Wisconsin Pea Canners for a consideration of $50,000, and Lakeside Packing Company, the new name, emerged with Wedertz as president.
We exist to provide nutritious and affordable food products to our customers that meet all of their specific needs. We do this in a way that is profitable, ethical, and satisfying to our people.
Wedertz transformed Lakeside Packing into a full line vegetable packing and pickling company. He began with the construction of a new plant to replace the wooden structure at the Plainview, Minnesota, facility. The $15,000 facility was completed at the site before the 1923 harvest and canning season, and Lakeside initiated production of canned peas and corn. Lakeside consolidated the Illinois pickling operations at Manitowoc and began to import olives from Spain for pickling at the new facility. At Lakeside’s five plants, Wedertz initiated the canning of wax beans, sauerkraut, red kidney beans, and pork and beans.
Lakeside began to sell its products under a number of brand names organized according to quality. Fancy Grade peas were sold under the Lakeside, Red Rabbit, and Blue Diamond labels and Extra Standard Grade under the Hobby, Eureka, Red Rabbit, and Northern Wisconsin brands. Standard Grade included the Sea Gem, Continental, King Bird, and Waverly brands.
As mechanization for the canning industry improved, Lakeside began to implement new methods of production. In 1928, electrical and steam power assisted the transfer of cans and canned goods. Electric power tools had not yet been developed, but as new mechanical efficiencies were invented, Lakeside organized to accommodate them. Further development of the Plainview facilities continued in 1930, but the Two Rivers and Turtle Lake plants were closed in 1930 and 1931, respectively. Canning operations were transferred to updated and enlarged facilities at Manitowoc, Sheboygan, and Plainview. These plants were located in larger farming communities, which ensured access to adequate crops, even during poor growing seasons, such as the 1933 drought.
Leadership change occurred once again with the death of company President Louis Wedertz, who died on vacation in the spring of 1936. The board of directors appointed Louis’s son Harry Wedertz as president of Lakeside. Harry started with the company in 1908 and had been manager of Manitowoc operations since 1914. As president, the younger Wedertz oversaw the renovation of buildings and the addition of warehouse space at Plainview. Also, he revamped Lakeside’s brand face by adding vibrant colors and more appealing graphics of vegetables to can labels.
The needs of World War II and the postwar boom set in motion a number of technological changes and developments. During World War II, Lakeside shifted its focus to supporting the war effort and diverted 60 percent of production to supply food to the troops. Required to conserve tin and steel needed for armaments, the company began to package most foods in glass jars. To meet the set-aside supply needs of the Quartermaster Corps of the U.S. Army, the company constructed heated warehouses. Labor shortages stimulated the creation of new technology for the harvesting of carrots and beets, root vegetables that required tedious handpicking. In 1944, Lakeside purchased a harvester that dug root vegetables up from the ground, cut off the greens, then transferred the vegetables to a truck. Problems in wet soil required handpicking missed crops, however. A lighter version of the machinery proved more effective the following year and field efficiency increased 30 percent.
- Albert Landreth markets his first large batch of canned peas.
- Albert Landreth Company acquires East Wisconsin Canners.
- Wisconsin Pea Canners acquires the Albert Landreth Company.
- Company President Louis Wedertz acquires Landreth assets and forms Lakeside Packing Company.
- Postwar production surpasses one million cases of canned vegetables.
- Lakeside diversifies its product line into frozen vegetables.
- At 100th anniversary, sales reach $60 million.
- Lakeside Packing is renamed Lakeside Foods Company.
- Through a joint venture, Lakeside enters frozen nondairy whipped cream market.
Expansion and innovation in the postwar years involved further development of field mechanization and methods of farming productions. The Plainview plant was expanded, and in 1949 produced one-third of the company’s total output. That year, Lakeside acquired more sophisticated pea vine harvesting equipment and experimented with new corn harvesting machinery. The innovations had problematic design issues, but by 1953, the problems were resolved and automated corn harvesting replaced hand harvesting completely. New bean pickers also significantly improved harvest rates. Other farming standards changed as well. With the development of more effective means of applying liquid chemical fertilizers, Lakeside instituted a contract requirement, in 1954, that farmers use liquid fertilizers. More effective in adding nitrogen to the soil than dry fertilizers, anhydrous ammonia produced immediate results as crop harvest increased up to 60 percent. Increased farming production required more canning capacity, and the company opened a plant in Pittsville, Wisconsin, in 1954. Even after the company closed the Pittsville plant in 1958 and the Amery plant in 1960, processing efficiencies thrust production to a record high. In 1961 Lakeside produced nearly 2.3 million cases and generated revenues of $5.6 million.
New approaches to consumer marketing during the late 1950s led to one of the most significant changes in Lakeside’s history. The increased interest in private-label products by Lakeside’s customers prompted the company to shift from brand marketing to private-label marketing. The high cost of embossed labels contributed to the decision. The company phased out its own brands, and private-label brands occupied more shelf space in the canned goods section of grocery stores.
Changing economic and farming conditions, always a factor in the food processing industry, attained new proportions of uncertainty during the 1960s. Investments in technology were sometimes followed by poor weather conditions that hurt crop yields and reduced available products for sale. In particular, this adversely affected the small canneries who could not keep pace with the economic efficiencies of larger, newly consolidated canneries; nor could they compete when prices were low. With Gordon A. Lund as president, Lakeside struggled to sustain a competitive edge through field mechanization and increased harvesting efficiency. Between 1964 and 1967, Lakeside replaced its stationary vine removal equipment with mobile pea combines. The use of more effective herbicides increased substantially at this time and reduced the weeds that interfered with crop yield. Plant modernization during the late 1960s involved the installation at Manitowoc of a hydrostatic cooker, a 60-foot-high machine that held the canned vegetables and water for cooking and cooling.
Robert W. Ferguson, who became president of Lakeside in 1972, continued plant modernization. In 1972 Lakeside invested $2 million at the Plainview facilities. This included expansion of the warehouse and construction of a new corn processing room. Technology in the “corn room” provided corn husking and cutting at the rate of 50 tons of sweet corn per hour. A high speed canning line at Manitowoc, along with the implementation of new production machinery increased line speeds to an unprecedented 250 to 600 cans per minute. Production at the company’s two plants increased to 3.9 million cases. The new equipment gave Lakeside efficiencies that maintained competitiveness and allowed the company to expand its product line. In 1975 Lakeside initiated production of canned beef as a subcontractor for another food processor.
In 1982, Lakeside reached another major turning point in its history as Stan Wachowial, president, Ferguson, chairman of the board, and J. Douglas Quick, executive vice-president, decided to diversify the company with a substantial investment in frozen food production. The plan required several changes in the organization of the company’s two main facilities, at Manitowoc and Plainview. Lakeside acquired two freezers, one for each plant location. All production would take place at the Plainview plant, but the central distribution facilities at Manitowoc required freezer space as well. The warehouse space at Manitowoc’s Calumet facility was enlarged by 50,000 feet, and in 1983 frozen packaging equipment arrived at the Plainview plant. The $2 million project included product chillers and 476,000 cubic feet of frozen storage space. Automated corn-cutting equipment improved efficiency, increased to 65 tons of corn per hour, in order to accommodate the additional production. Also, the purchase of seven new pea pod strippers and four new bean harvesters improved efficiency in the field. Other improvements included installation of a broccoli and cauliflower production line and a beet steamer. The pea processing plant was renovated to accommodate distribution to frozen and canned packaging facilities. A contract with Hormel involved the production of five new products, including that company’s Top Shelf brand of dinner entrées.
With J. Douglas Quick as president, Lakeside’s product expansion continued with the 1988 acquisition of the canned fruit and vegetable division from Krier Foods of Belgium, Wisconsin. Krier Foods’ product line included vegetables, applesauce, jams, and jellies. Processing facilities obtained from Krier, in Belgium and Random Lake, allowed Lakeside to maintain its canned goods production while it continued to expand frozen foods. The continued diversification of its product line prompted Lakeside Packing to change its name to Lakeside Foods in 1991.
During the 1990s Lakeside expanded through the addition of numerous production facilities. The company constructed a large addition to the Manitowoc Distribution Center in 1995, and the construction of a state-of-the-art frozen vegetable production facility was completed in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, in 1996. Lakeside acquired a frozen pea and corn processing plant in Brooten, Minnesota, in 1998; the facility was only two years old. The 1999 acquisition of Seymour Canning Company included processing facilities for both canned and frozen foods. Products gained through the acquisition included carrots and potatoes, and organic corn, peas, and beans. In 2003 Lakeside acquired from Chiquita Processed Foods three production facilities located in Eden and New Richmond, Wisconsin, and Owatonna, Minnesota, and a distribution center located in Poynette, Wisconsin.
The additional production facilities provided Lakeside with flexibility to produce custom processed foods. Customers in this new area of development included Hormel, for whom Lakeside produced Dinty Moore All-American Meals, and Chi-Chi’s restaurants, for whom Lakeside produced salsa. In the spring of 1999, Lakeside began production on a line of private-label skillet dinners for Topco; the introductory entrees were chicken alfredo, teriyaki chicken, garlic chicken, and homestyle beef.
Also in 1999, Lakeside formed a joint venture with Interstate Food Processing Corporation to produce frozen, nondairy whipped toppings for private-label customers. Peak Foods, as the venture was named, operated a plant in Troy, Ohio, and began distribution to retailers, wholesalers, and foodservice distributors in early 2000. Products included regular, lite, fat-free, and extra creamy varieties as well as French vanilla and strawberry flavors.
In 2004, Lakeside contracted to process food self-heating containers, a product developed by OnTech LLC. The company also continued to expand on the basics of its product lines. In frozen foods, the company added frozen berries and frozen vegetable blends, such Vegetables for Soup and Scandinavian Blend. The company also expanded through export. An office in Thailand served customers in Japan, Sweden, and a dozen other countries. By 2006, Lakeside Foods had become one of the largest private-label food processors in the United States.
Peak Foods, Inc. (50%).
Birds Eye Foods, Inc.; Del Monte Foods Company; Faribault Foods, Inc.; General Mills, Inc.; Seneca Foods Corporation.
“Business Around Wisconsin,” Milwaukee Sentinel, December 14, 1991, p. 8.
“Chiquita to Sell Canning Business to Seneca,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 7, 2003, p. D1.
Gores, Paul, “Lakeside Foods Is One of the State’s Best-Kept Secrets,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online, http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id[H11005]488032&, August 26, 2006.
“Lakeside Announces Acquisition,” Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter, February 17, 1988.
“Lakeside Buys Seymour Canning,” Sheboygan Press, March 14, 1999, p. D1.
“Lakeside Foods,” Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter, June 29, 1999, p. A3.
“Lakeside Foods on Edge of Convenience Food Technology,” Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter, September 12, 2004, p. B1.
“Lakeside in Venture to Make Whipped Toppings,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 25, 1999, p. D2.
“Lakeside Packing Company: A Century of Quality,” Manitowoc, Wis.: Lakeside Foods, 1987.
Stare, Fred A., “The Story of Wisconsin’s Great Canning Industry,” Madison, Wis.: Wisconsin Canners Association, 1949.