M.A. Gedney Co.
M.A. Gedney Co.
Sales: $50 million (2001 est.)
NAIC: 311421 Fruit and Vegetable Canning; 111998 All Other Miscellaneous Crop Farming; 311941 Mayonnaise, Dressing, and Other Prepared Sauce Manufacturing
M.A. Gedney Co. is a Minnesota-based manufacturer of pickles, condiments, preserves, salad dressings, and salsas that produces a total of about 200 different products. In addition to its own brands, Gedney also packs private label goods for such major retailers as the Kroger Co. The company’s products are distributed in the midwestern United States as well as in New England under the Cains and Oxford brands, which were acquired in 2000. Gedney is the leading pickle maker in the Midwest, accounting for close to 60 percent of total sales there. The privately held company is managed by fifth-generation descendants of its founder.
The M.A. Gedney Co. traces its roots to 1881, when the firm was founded in Minneapolis, Minnesota, by Mathias Anderson Gedney. Gedney, who was born in 1822, had already lived a colorful life, having gone to sea at the age of 14 and later participated in the California gold rush. A modest success in the latter endeavor brought him enough money to marry, and he later moved his growing family to Evanston, Illinois, where he began working for Northwestern Pickle Works in 1863.
Taking recipes he learned there, and others gleaned from a stint at S.M. Dingee & Co. in Chicago, Gedney moved to Minneapolis in 1879 and began seeking farmers to grow cucumbers, a vegetable not normally cultivated in northern states. In 1881, Gedney opened his first pickle and condiment production plant at Lowry and Pacific Avenues in Minneapolis, and he began delivering and selling his products directly from horse-driven “cash wagons” the following year.
During its first decade, the new company grew rapidly, with the main plant expanded several times and other facilities opened in St. Paul and Chaska, Minnesota; Mauston, Wisconsin; and Omaha and Kearney, Nebraska. Four of Gedney’s sons, Isadore (“I.V.”), Henry, Charles, and John, took on key roles at the company during this period.
Mathias Gedney’s pickle recipes were popular with the public, and by the mid-1890s annual production had grown to more than 30,000 barrels. The company was producing a number of different varieties, including homemade, sweet, mixed, chow-chow, American and English-style, as well as salad dressings, catsup, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, mustard, olives, and West India and Tabasco pepper sauces.
Continued Growth in the 20th Century
In 1895, Gedney expanded its distribution territory to include North Dakota and Montana, and in 1901 the firm’s Chaska plant was enlarged to facilitate production of sauerkraut. The year 1910 saw Gedney replace its horse-drawn cash wagons with motorized trucks.
Control of the company was by this time in the hands of I.V. Gedney, who, as president, continued to guide the firm until his death in 1945. At that time the top job passed to his son-in-law, Harry Tuttle, who had begun working for Gedney in 1928 as a still operator in a vinegar plant.
During the postwar years, the company made improvements in several areas. In 1946, Gedney’s cash wagon trucks began selling directly to grocers from orders placed in advance. Five years later, the Chaska plant added equipment to enable production of “fresh pack” pickles, which were becoming increasingly popular. In 1958, Gedney’s entire operation was consolidated outside Chaska, where a new 50,000-square-foot warehouse, plant, and office facility was built on an 18-acre site.
In 1967, Harry’s son Gedney Tuttle was named company president. He had been working for the firm since the late 1940s. At this time, M.A. Gedney was continuing to produce a full line of pickles and condiments, using its founder’s original recipes as well as other, more recently created ones.
The beginning of the 1970s saw the company give large customers such as May Brothers and Super Valu the option of picking up their orders directly at the factory in Chaska, thus generating savings on distribution costs. Gedney pickles were now available throughout much of the midwestern United States, from Minnesota down to Arkansas and from Montana across to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Acquisition of Max’s Pickles
In 1985, Gedney completed the acquisition of the Flavo Food Company, makers of Max’s Pickles. Three years later, the company mothballed its less-profitable food service division to focus solely on retail sales. Gedney products were increasingly being distributed through food brokers to wholesale distributors and chain stores at this time. The company also began identifying itself as the source of “The Minnesota Pickle.”
Gedney’s pickle making was something that took place largely in the late summer when cucumbers were harvested by about 800 contract growers the company utilized in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and South Dakota. The firm’s growers used no pesticides and harvested the cukes by hand for superior quality. Between the end of July and early September about half of Gedney’s annual output of pickles would be packed, with the workforce ballooning from 140 to as many as 400 while the plant ran around the clock on three shifts. During the rest of the calendar year, the firm produced its other products, acquiring some pickles as needed from Mexico and North Carolina to pack during the off-season. In contrast to the early days, when most pickles were fermented for a month in brine before they were packed, newly harvested cucumbers were now placed directly into jars with brine and then pasteurized, producing a pickle that was crunchy and tart, rather than soft and sour. This method was known as the “fresh pack” process.
In 1991, Gedney launched its State Fair Pickles line, which featured a pair of prize-winning recipes for kosher dills and bread and butter pickles that had been selected in a company-sponsored competition at the Minnesota State Fair. Photographs of the winning pickle makers were featured on the packaging and in ads, and the company worked with them to ensure that their recipes were faithfully recreated. In addition to a degree of fame, they each received a small commission for every jar sold. Over the next several years, three more pickle recipes and four State Fair Blue Ribbon varieties of preserves were also introduced, and the popular line continued to grow each year thereafter.
The year 1996 saw introduction of Gedney Pickle Planks, which were long, thinly sliced pickles that were ideal for use in sandwiches. The next year brought Pickle Pick-Ups, small individual-serving packages that contained pickles but no liquid brine. Previous attempts at packaging pickles for individual sale had involved messy brine-filled plastic bags, and the pickles often became discolored through exposure to oxygen, which was absorbed through the plastic. Gedney’s proprietary method, which used heat treatment and a preservative, effectively solved these problems. Three company staffers had developed the process, and they later applied for a patent. Gedney had earlier patented a device that gently pushed pickles into jars without smashing them, which replaced the traditional method of having employees who were called “Toppers” tap overflowing pickles into place using a mallet and board.
In 1998, refrigerated Crispy Pickles were introduced to compete with a popular line made by industry giant Claussen, and Gedney began to make salsas under contract for Sparta Foods Inc. This deal took advantage of the company’s existing equipment and expertise at making its own Devil’s Fire brand of salsa, which had been introduced the previous year.
The same year also saw a change in leadership when Jeff Tuttle, Gedney’s son, took over as CEO of the firm. He had been working for the family business since 1995 as head of marketing and advertising, having gotten his MBA from the University of Michigan before putting in time at Miller Brewing in Milwaukee. Other family members employed by the company included his brother Carl and a cousin, Tom Hitch. A short time after Jeff Tuttle’s installation, Gedney’s distribution area expanded again, growing to include Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
Cains Purchase in 2000 Doubles Company’s Size
The year 2000 saw Gedney make its largest acquisition to date, at a time when the pickle industry was becoming increasingly consolidated. In July, the firm bought the pickle, pepper, and relish businesses of Cains Foods LP of Ayer, Massachusetts. Cains had begun making mayonnaise in 1925 and had expanded into pickle production in 1955, marketing its goods under the Cains and Oxford brand names. It produced the number one brand of relish and the number two brand of pickles in New England. The deal, which roughly doubled the company’s size, brought Gedney a pickle plant in South Deerfield, Massachusetts, while Cains retained its salad dressing and mayonnaise product lines and manufacturing facilities. Industry analysts estimated that Gedney would control 5 to 6 percent of the U.S. pickle market after adding the Cains brands.
At the M.A. Gedney Company, our true mission is to painstakingly provide products of uncommonly high quality. Whether it’s pickles, salsa, or preserves, consumers know that if it’s from Gedney it’s definitely the best.
In the spring of 2002, Gedney decided to sell the South Deerfield plant and the food service side of the Cains business and move the Cains retail packing operation to Chaska. The plant was sold to a former Cains executive and four Massachusetts growers. Calling the abandoned food service business an experiment, CEO Tuttle commented to the Business Journal of Minneapolis/St. Paul, “It actually turned out to be more of a drain on our resources. We really would rather focus on retail.” Though food service pickle production outstripped that of retail by a significant margin, it was a difficult area to successfully break into. A short time after these changes were finalized, an agreement was reached to pack pickles for canned fruit and vegetable giant Del Monte Foods Co. The five-year deal was expected to involve annual production of 500,000 cases of pickles.
As it neared one and one-quarter centuries in business, the M.A. Gedney Co. was offering a range of food products that included pickles, relishes, sauerkraut, salad dressings, mustard, vinegar, fruit spreads, and salsas, all of which were distributed throughout the company’s stronghold of the midwestern United States, as well as in New England under the Cains and Oxford names. National penetration was a possibility for the future, but until it was attained Gedney would no doubt remain one of the leading regional pickle and condiment producers in the United States.
Cains Pickles, Inc.
Pinnacle Foods Corporation; H.J. Heinz Company; Kraft Foods Inc.
- Mathias A. Gedney starts a pickle and condiment business in Minneapolis.
- Pickle production tops 30,000 barrels per year.
- Harry Tuttle takes control of firm from father-in-law I.V. Gedney.
- Operations are consolidated at new Chaska, Minnesota, facility.
- Harry’s son Gedney Tuttle is named president of the firm.
- Flavo Food Company and its Max’s Pickles brand are acquired.
- The company’s food service division is closed.
- State Fair Pickles line bows; other State Fair products follow.
- Gedney Tuttle turns over the CEO post to his son Jeff.
- The company acquires the pickle business of Cains Foods of Massachusetts.
- Cains food service unit and its Massachusetts packing plant are sold; a deal to pack 500,000 cases of pickles per year is struck with Del Monte.
Cruz, Sherri, “Chaska’s Pickle Powerhouse,” Star Tribune Newspaper
of the Twin Cities Minneapolis-St. Paul, February 24, 2002, p. 1D.
Egerstrom, Lee, “Chaska, Minn.-Based Pickle Maker to Buy Massachusetts Company,” World Reporter, July 11, 2000.
—, “Roseville, Minn. Food Firm Signs Pact with Chaska-Based Company for Salsas,” World Reporter, July 30, 1998.
“History of M.A. Gedney Co.” Available at http://www.gedneypickle.com, September 8, 2002.
Jones, Jim, “Public’s Relish for Pickles Keeps Gedney Packing,” Star Tribune Newspaper of the Twin Cities Minneapolis-St. Paul, July 18, 1986, p. 7B.
Kennedy, Tony, “Pickle Packer Pursuing ‘Pouch-Pack’ Patent,” Star Tribune Newspaper of the Twin Cities Minneapolis-St. Paul, May 29, 1997, p. 1D.
“M.A. Gedney Buys Cains Pickle Business,” Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Massachusetts), September 14, 2000, p. E3.
Merrill, Ann, “Next Generation Takes Over at Gedney,” Star Tribune Newspaper of the Twin Cities Minneapolis-St. Paul, September 15, 1998, p. 3D.
“Packing a Pickle to Go,” Newsday, May 30, 1997, p. A65.
St. Anthony, Neal, “Gedney Goes Long With a Cross-Country Pickle Deal,” Star Tribune Newspaper of the Twin Cities Minneapolis-St. Paul, September 19, 2000, p. 1D.
Sicherman, Al, “It’s Not Easy Being Crunchy—Pickle Scientist Jim Cook Tells a Dilly of a Tale,” Star Tribune Newspaper of the Twin Cities Minneapolis-St. Paul, September 19, 1990, p. 1T.
Tellijohn, Andrew, “Gedney, Del Monte Pen Pickle Pact,” Business Journal of Minneapolis/St. Paul, June 28, 2002.