Unveiling Gielow Pickles’ century-long legacy of quality, innovation, and resilience

Since the early 1900s, Gielow Pickles Ltd (Gielow) has served as a leading presence in the food service and retail industries. At Gielow, pickles are a family affair, with each generation ensuring the production of the highest quality pickles, offered at a competitive price. Through the use of automated packaging equipment, direct contact with growers across the US, and the buying power of market leaders, Gielow is empowered to stand by this legacy. “Gielow is a manufacturer of pickled vegetables, pickles, peppers, relishes, and sauerkraut serving markets across the world. These items are produced across four facilities located in Michigan, Florida, and Washington,” informs Craig Gielow, President. Starting from its beginnings, Craig talks us through Gielow’s history. Inside Gielow Pickles factory

“My family has a century-long history in pickled vegetable production, spanning five generations since 1921. Over the course of these 100 years, the Gielow family has established and expanded two pickle companies. The first, Aunt Jane’s Pickles Ltd, was founded back in 1921 by JJ Gielow and his three sons Roy, Les, and Marvin. The company grew, operating from multiple sites and becoming the second largest pickle manufacturer in the US. In 1967, the business was sold to Comstock Foods, a division of Bordon’s. Three years later, Doug Gielow, Roy’s son, established another pickle business named Cool Crisp by Gielow (Cool Crisp). The cornerstones of this venture were high-quality, refrigerated style pickles and a new approach focused on the burgeoning food service market. Additionally, Doug recognized the potential of plastic packaging, which was quite innovative as most pickle products in 1970 were served in glass or metal jars. Today, Cool Crisp is a prominent player in the food service industry across the US and Canada. Cool Crisp’s line of refrigerated pickle products is also available in retail outlets throughout the US,” he continues. 

Comprehensive product portfolio 

Throughout its long journey in the industry, Gielow has honed its product offering. “Our high-quality refrigerated line of pickles features various cuts and sizes, including whole pickles, pickle chips, spears (quartered pickles), strips (length-cut pickle slices), and different sizes of cubes, such as our very own Shredies which are cut for quick application and full coverage on sandwiches, subs, burgers, and hot dogs. Renowned for our innovation, we were the first company to offer individually wrapped whole and spear-cut pickles without juice, for both food service and retail applications. Following the switch from restaurant to home dining during the pandemic, Gielow responded to consumer demand by launching a retail line of refrigerated pickles and shelf-stable pepper products. Moreover, our newest line of preservative-free products, with no artificial colors, caters to both food service and retail markets. It includes various types of refrigerated pickles ranging from wholes, to spears and chips, with flavors like Kosher, Dill, and Bread and Butter. We also offer a superior refrigerated sweet relish, which offers a fresh take on old favorites and is ideal for burgers, hot dogs, and as an ingredient in potato salad, Thousand Island dressing or alongside tuna. Lastly, Gielow provides a selection of banana peppers and jalapeno peppers, as well as pepper relish, which are all preservative-free and made with turmeric,” Craig highlights. 

With this comprehensive product portfolio under its belt, Gielow is now expanding its manufacturing footprint with new operations taking place in Lexington, Michigan. “During the pandemic, like many businesses in the food service sector, Gielow experienced significant reductions in business. Despite this, our growth has rebounded very well, even surpassing pre-pandemic levels, thus presenting us with the need for further expansion. Currently, we are expanding our Michigan distribution center, which is set to have doubled in size by June 2024. Gielow is seeking to grow its distribution facilities in Washington and Florida, too. Additionally, a new manufacturing facility is scheduled for construction in Michigan in 2025. Our continued growth in the food service segment, driven by the introduction of new product lines along with anticipated growth in the retail sector, fuels our need for these additional facilities,” explains Craig. 

Jar of pickles next to a burger & crispsInnovative solutions 

Moving forward, Craig reveals Gielow’s secret to fostering positive and enduring relationships with its network of suppliers. “One key factor which contributed to Gielow’s rapid and strong growth in the midst of the pandemic was its longstanding relationship with suppliers. The traditional model of just-in-time inventory supply was in trouble, prompting the need for a shift in our approach. Therefore, Gielow collaborated with suppliers to secure inventory, adapting to the changing landscape. To that end, we rented facilities to stockpile supplies, which enabled us to be prepared for when our suppliers could ship, aligning with crop cycles to ensure readiness. Instead of dwelling on our suppliers’ limitations, we focused on finding innovative solutions. I believe that thinking outside the box remains an essential mindset today as supply chains are still recovering from the impact of the pandemic,” he unveils. 

Gielow’s emphasis on collaboration is not only reflected through its relationships with suppliers, but also in its company culture, as Craig elaborates. “As a family business, we strive to foster a culture where employees feel like valued members of our family. Even though we are a large company, it remains important for us to keep a close-knit feel where everyone knows each other, promoting a sense of familial connection from the leadership down. This familial bond became especially vital during the challenges brought on by the pandemic, as we did our best to keep our staff in employment when our business experienced an 80 percent decline. We engaged in tasks such as painting, cleaning, organizing, and even relocating to a larger corporate office to continue providing work for our employees. Although it might have been easier to shut down and lay off staff, we recognized the importance of supporting our employees when they needed it most,” he adds. 

Robust relationships 

In the face of adversity, Gielow consistently showcases its resilience and resourcefulness. “Today’s biggest challenge continues to be the limited number of qualified individuals. To address this, we work with agencies to recruit skilled employees for our plants and prioritize meeting both their needs and ours. We have also seen recent promotions, with my son now Vice President of Operations and Lisa Disser as Vice President, Finance.  

“Another significant hurdle is finding good suppliers who can ensure timely delivery of necessary materials. Additionally, the transportation aspect of our business is crucial to our success, especially considering the weight and low-cost nature of pickled products. Freight costs play a substantial role in keeping costs down during these times of inflation. Fortunately, our amazing partner Mega Corp has been instrumental in sourcing vegetables from all around the US, Canada, and Mexico at competitive rates and, most importantly, in a timely manner, which is vital for strengthening our customers’ supply chains,” ends Craig. 

Through its unrivaled ingenuity, Gielow is poised to achieve continued prosperity and tackle any further challenges that may arise.