Yearning for the good old days at Schwan’s

It’s pretty easy to run into somebody in Marshall with connections with the Schwan’s company. It could be a current employee or former employee with decades of service. Or perhaps someone who has a family member working at one of the Schwan’s plants or offices.

So you can’t ignore the emotions that are now currently flowing through the community over the sale.

I talked with a former Schwan’s employee and a current worker who both reminisced about the founder, Marvin Schwan, walking through the ice cream and beverage plants talking with the employees.

That’s a personal touch that most workers at large companies do not get to experience. But it appears it was cherished by many longtime Schwan’s employees.

Unfortunately, as companies grow, that personal touch from upper echelon of management typically disappears. It’s a natural phenomenon in world where making profits rules.

Today, Marshall residents and business owners struggle with the implications — the good and bad. By now “CJ CheilJedang” is the most popular search on Google in Marshall.

At first I discovered some basic searches didn’t come up with a lot of information about the South Korean company. But more and more information is popping up in the days following Schwan’s announcement of the sale of 80 percent of the company to CJ CheilJedang. Schwan’s made the announcement on Nov. 13 late in the evening.

The sale will include 80 percent of Schwan’s and subsidiaries that focus on foods sold in retail stores, grocery stores and food-service venues. The sale will also include the company’s manufacturing and logistics operations. However, the Schwan family will keep 20 percent ownership of the businesses being sold, as well as 100 percent ownership of Schwan’s Home Service, Inc.

After the sale is complete, Schwan’s will operate as a subsidiary of CJ Foods America Corp. But it will still be headquartered in Marshall and Bloomington, and the current senior management team at Schwan’s will remain in place, the company announced.

According to a Nov. 14 Bloomberg article, CJ CheilJedang is one of South Korea’s largest food companies, with a market cap of $4.7 billion and annual revenue of about $15 billion. The company entered the U.S. market in 2005 by acquiring Annie Chun’s Inc., a maker of Asian-inspired foods. Bloomberg also reports that CJ CheilJedang has been busy the past few years expanding in overseas markets — particularly in the frozen-food business. In August the company said it would buy U.S.-based Kahiki Foods and Germany’s Mainfrost for undisclosed sums, according to Yonhap.

Korea JoongAng Daily reported a year ago that CJ CheilJedang said it was buying the Brazilian food company Selecta — the world’s top manufacturer of soy protein concentrate. The company also established a fermented soybean meal plant in Vietnam.

On the CJ CheilJedang web page, its CEO, Shin Hyunjae vows that the company will continue to expand.

” CJ CheilJedang will not rest on being the top food company in Korea and is committed to becoming the world’s best food and bio company by strengthening its global business,” he said.

CJ CheilJedang was founded as ‘Cheil Jedang’ in August 1953 as a sugar and flour manufacturer and originally part of the Samsung Group. In 1993 it spun off from Samsung and gained independent management and entered the food service and entertainment industries.

It has since expanded globally with offices in China, U.S., Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Brazil, Australia, Japan, Russia and Singapore.

The bottom line, Schwan’s is being taken over by a company with considerable resources. In the long run, that could be a very good outcome for employees in Marshall. If the company continues to flex its muscle in the food industry landscape, it could mean more investment into Marshall facilities.

It’s the boost both Schwan’s and employees need for a successful future.

But if you are yearning for the return of that personal touch Marvin Schwan was famous for, that left many years ago. That was evident during Schwan’s 65th anniversary celebration. That celebration was not held at the company’s birth place — Marshall. It was held in the brand new US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

As invited guests feasted on exotic food during the extravaganza event, Schwan’s CEO Dimitrios Smyrnois did talk of the company’s roots.

“A young man said to his mom and dad, ‘look, I’m going to deliver ice cream door to door.’ That very act that (Marvin Schwan) did 65 years ago today formed a $3 billion company across the United States. That’s a lot of respect for that act,” he said.

Unfortunately, the US Bank audience was not represented by those who toil on the manufacturing floors in Marshall. Most of those people didn’t even know the celebration was happening in Minneapolis.

A year later, one current employee at the beverage plant told me a week after the sale, “they didn’t even tell us.”

So times have changed and it’s business as usual — but without the Marvin Schwan personal touch.