Pete Gengler – Sno Pac Foods | People Of The Driftless

World’s First

Pete Gengler is happy that his family and its company, Sno Pac Foods, Inc., got into the organic food business early.

Touting itself as the world’s first grower/processor of frozen organic vegetables, Sno Pac, located in Caledonia, Minnesota, is in its third generation of ownership. Pete Gengler’s mother, Darlene, is the last of the second generation, working in the office on accounts payable. The third generation is made up of Pete, the general manager; Nick, who heads up production; and Joan (Denstad), their sister, who lives on the farm and works in the office. Family involvement has been a cornerstone of day-to-day operations since the company was founded in 1943.

The nature of Sno Pac’s business allows the Gengler’s not to worry much about crop prices. “We can stay in business because we create our own market by growing, processing and packaging our products and being able to store them,” says Pete. He states that Sno Pac has about 15 percent of the frozen organic food market. The Organic Trade Association, amongst others, expect the growth rate of frozen organics to be near 40 percent.

Beginning with Family

Everything the Gengler’s do today connects with something the family did long ago. Gengler Lumber Company, founded in the 1900s by Pete’s great-grandfather, John Peter Gengler, has evolved into what is now a world-class processor of organic fruit and vegetable products. The family began growing organic fruits and vegetables in the 1930s. During World War II, Nicholas started packaging the frozen food under the Sno Pac label, and a niche market of frozen organic products was created.

From the beginning, the Gengler family farmed organically, using natural products and practicing soil conservation methods. When chemicals were introduced to the farming community, the Gengler’s were contacted from people around the country who wanted their organic products. Now the family grows wheat and alfalfa for crop rotation and plows in the residue to fertilize the organic fields. “We don’t have too much of an insect issue with organic. The big issue is the weed pressure,” according to Pete.

A Diverse Product Line

The Sno Pac product line now includes fruits and vegetables.

    chopped spinach
    golden corn
    green peas
    cut green beans
    sweet beans

These are all among the staple line. It has also begun marketing newer products like; ‘Southern Style Hash Browns’ and ‘Soycoutash’ (a mixture of vegetable soy, red peppers and corn).

In addition, Pete has introduced organic edamame to the U.S. market. These are soybeans picked before they reach maturity, resulting in a sweeter flavor. Previously, they were imported from Japan or Taiwan and were available only through Asian grocers. “For 10 years or more, Sno Pac has been trying to develop the best variety and processing procedures for edamame,” says Pete. “Sno Pac is the most successful in the U.S. at producing them. And while they’ve been a snack food in Japan for centuries, edamame are really catching on here in the U.S.”

The Sno Pac products are truly “fresh frozen.” Once produce is harvested and brought from the field to the processing plant, it takes 7 to 10 minutes for it to be placed in a freezer. Depending on quality and volume, 3 to 5 employees will also manually sift through the produce before it is transferred to the freezer. The final produce is transferred into the freezer storage area, which is approximately 50 feet away.
A Competitive Edge

Sno Pac recently switched to frozen produce bags, instead of their traditional cartons due to a change in consumer preference. “We’re trying to stay competitive,” Pete says. Sno Pac also sells to food manufacturers that combine its produce in recipes for other products. Its vegetables are used in the Amy’s Kitchen brand, ShariAnn’s soups, and Gerber’s baby foods (under the Tender Harvest label). Sno Pac label products are distributed nationally to colleges and cafeterias, health food stores, buying clubs and retail stores. The retail market contributes the most to Sno Pac’s profit margins.

Sno Pac is enjoying a 20 percent annual increase in growth. Despite the high growth-rate and astonishing success of Sno Pac foods, Pete admits that the family continues to invest hard work in order to grow their company. “Every day is a challenge for us,” says Pete, “We have to deal with the weather, equipment breakdowns, personnel issues and more competition now in the organic food industry.”

He adds that the most exciting part of what he does is “seeing it all come together. You start your crop planning and obtaining contracts during the winter. Then come the plantings and if we’re lucky, the weather cooperates to yield enough crops to cover contracts and more. It’s seeing all those details come together that gives me satisfaction.” He also feels gratified knowing that he’s contributing to the supply of healthy foods for American tables. “We’re committed to organic foods. I can’t think of not being in the business.”

Sno Pac Foods, Inc.
521 Enterprise Dr, Caledonia, MN 55921
(507) 725-5281