Harvest Food Group
Issue Winter 14
Harvest Food Group President Jason Eckert says “a lot of prayer” has gone into his company’s success since its inception in 1999. Along with humility and gratitude, another pillar of Eckert’s Christian faith is a belief in hard work, and there’s no doubt that Harvest Food Group’s dedication to hard work is strong.
Based in Warrenville, Ill., Harvest Food Group specializes in sourcing, developing, and manufacturing premium quality food products for companies of all sizes. Supplying large CPG companies to small privately held companies, its products and services include traditional and organic frozen fruits and vegetables, frozen meals and side dishes, and a recently added line of frozen products produced under its own Path of Life brand.
In 2007, Scott Schmidt joined Harvest Food Group as Vice President bringing his vast experience in the frozen food business. In addition to expanding Harvest Food Group’s customer base, Schmidt has helped accelerate the growth of manufacturing operations by working closely with customers to develop manufacturing solutions in addition to sourcing the ingredients. Schmidt says “I love helping customers overcome manufacturing hurdles to bring new and creative products to the marketplace.”
The company’s mission is to keep their customers totally satisfied by providing the highest quality goods at fair pricing, with unparalleled service and delivery. Honesty and integrity are the company’s most essential components – and serve as the foundation upon which the company is built. Although the frozen food marketplace is a crowded and competitive one characterized by price wars, Harvest Food Group is secure in its position as a leading Midwestern co-packer and manufacturer. This is due in large part to the company’s unwavering commitment to providing the highest-quality products on the market through expert sourcing, state-of-the-art facilities and exceptional safety procedures. Our customers know that whenever they come to us, we’re going to be able to supply them with superior products,” CFO Greg Schroyer says.
For employees of Harvest Food Group it is easy to see that selling healthy foods isn’t just a business for Eckert and Schmidt, but rather a major component of their everyday lifestyles. Both owners have experienced first-hand the impact food plays in overall wellness and frequently talk about the natural healing properties of fruits and vegetables. In addition to regularly encouraging their employees to make healthy choices, they also recognize ‘Healthy Friday’ by bringing in fruits, fresh pressed juices and smoothies.
Eckert says Harvest Food Group has made its reputation in providing customers with the broadest and most diverse array of frozen fruits and vegetables on the market. That means being able to source not only the staple fruits and vegetables but also unique, hard-to-find items such as quinoa. According to Eckert, the company’s ability to provide these unique items comes down to having the right knowledge. “We wanted to really be involved in specialty items, so to do that you need to know who is growing that product and the part of the world it’s grown in,” he says.
For example, Eckert and Schmidt traveled to Central America to personally inspect some of the fields used to grow the ingredients Harvest Food Group purchases. Eckert says he considers that an essential step to ensure high quality across every product line the company makes, and it is a major part of the reason Harvest Food Group has confidence in its products. “I learned a long time ago that the relationships with our suppliers are just as important as our relationships with our customers,” he says.
Having extensive knowledge of growers and growing regions also comes in handy for Harvest Food Group because it allows the company to react quickly to emerging trends in the frozen food market, such as the popularity of quinoa and other whole grains. When the company sees trends heading in a particular direction, they can react quickly and provide their customers with the products they need.
The company’s global perspective in terms of supply chain also serves an important purpose in protecting it against the natural spikes and valleys caused by changing seasons and weather patterns. Eckert says having a strong network of growers around the world makes it easier for the company to maintain good supply levels.
Commitment to Safety and Innovation
Beyond the sourcing of its products, Eckert says Harvest Food Group also excels because of its advanced manufacturing facility in Chicago. Schroyer points out that the facility not only has USDA certification, but it also has achieved SQF level 3 certification. SQF Level 3 certification is the highest level of certification a facility can receive from the Safe Quality Food Institute, and Schroyer says it speaks to the company’s devotion to food safety.
Eckert adds that the company’s facility is capable of manufacturing and co-packing frozen foods in a kosher, organic environment. The company’s state-of-the-art test kitchen and professional chef adds the ability to create innovative products for its customers. All of these capabilities combine to offer customers more options from one source than most of Harvest Food Group’s competitors can offer. “We really can be a one-stop shop,” Eckert says.
As the company expands its contract manufacturing and private label business, the success Harvest Food Group has experienced in the past 15 years is expected to continue. The company’s Path of Life brand products are generating a lot of interest from retailers who want to satisfy consumers’ demand for healthier, more nourishing frozen food options. The company is working hard to expand its main facility to help keep up with its growth, but that’s a challenge the company welcomes.