January 09, 2004
Troy Gullekson stands next to a hopper dispenser that holds the beans he uses un their soup mixes.
Minnesota family-run food company increases sales with bean soup mix
Troy Gullekson's family used to grow dry beans. Now Troy and his wife, Michelle, of Fertile, Minn., sell them.
They own Penn Foods, a company that markets a bean soup mix and other products to approximately 300 stores in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin. They also sell their products over the Internet and have shipped packages to every state in the U.S.
"There is a good niche market for specialty foods," Troy says.
The Gulleksons got into food manufacturing in 1999.
"We were looking for a sideline business that we could operate as a family," says Troy, who also works at the University of Minnesota Crookston research farm.
Penn Foods - a food company located in Fertile - came up for sale. It sold dry mixes of traditional favorite Scandinavian foods that are tedious to make from scratch. The products included potato dumplings, potato pancakes and potato lefse.
A year after buying the company, the Gulleksons added a dry bean soup mix to their product line. Troy experimented with different combinations of beans and seasonings until he came up something his family liked.
"We ate a lot of bean soup when we were developing the recipe," he says.
Troy buys navy, pinto, great northern, kidney and other classes of beans from processors in the region whenever possible. The quality of the beans must be very high. Not only do the beans have to be clean; free of dirt, stones and foreign material; but they also have to look good. The Gulleksons package the bean soup mix in a clear plastic container and layer the beans in an attractive pattern.
"Packaging is very visual today. People want to see what they are buying," he says.
Food manufacturing is a challenging industry.
"It is very complex. It isn't easy to get into or to stay in," Troy says. "Grocers don't want to give you shelf space unless you have volume but you can't develop any volume unless you have the shelf space."
Most entrepreneurs who launch a food product work many years without seeing a profit.
"It helped that we bought an established business with a customer base," Troy says.
The Gulleksons have tripled Penn Foods' sales since they bought the company, thanks in part to introduction of a bean soup mix. They also recently developed another new product, a five-grain pancake mix.
"We take a lot of pride in what we do," Troy says. "We constantly remind ourselves that the meals we make are going to end up on someone's table."
Layers of beans make an attractive pattern in Penn Food's clear soup mix container.
For more information, see the Penn Foods' Web site: www.pennfoods.com.