Printer Friendly

Seabrook Brands 50th anniversary.

OPENING MESSAGE Price/Value - Keys to Success

Many changes have occurred since Mr. Charles F. Seabrook and Mr. Clarence Birdseye worked together!! Their vision of providing quality fruits and vegetables to the public has become an Institution.

Those of us in another generation experienced political and technological changes that we might not have imagined - Korea, Viet Nam, the Berlin Wall, Eastern Europe, the Gulf War, Russia, the space exploration, computers facsimile machines, cellular phones--all contributed to the United States being the most advanced technological country on the planet.

We experienced the Baby Boom, the Flower Children of the '60's, the '70's when two-thirds of the population lived in the East and the Midwest, the financial excesses of the '80's, and surely the '90's will mean some adjustments for most of us!!

The aging baby boomers will become contributors to the "Graying of America". Soon, more people will live in the warmer climates of the South and the West. These seniors will demand healthy, nutritious and convenient products to support longer, more active lifestyles. Other minority market segments will grow and offer the same opportunities for our products.

While these demographic trends provide opportunities, those marketers who can provide the correct price/value for their products will succeed.

We will have to educate our children earlier in school to the attributes of health and nutrition. We will have to provide these quality fruits and vegetables in a package that will be convenient to select and use at a price that means value to the customer.

Marketing can be easy for the fruit and vegetable industry because we already have the items and the nutritional data. Competition, technology and, of course, Mother Nature, will contribute to our cost to produce. But no other nation in the world has the ability to produce and market at the price/value we expect.

Seabrook Foods, Inc. has the means and the desire to participate in the next era and continue the vision that Mr. Seabrook and Mr. Birdseye had.

Seabrook Farms is fifty years old and proud of it.

In fact, pride is the watchword for the venerable frozen food brand which celebrates its 50th birthday in 1992. "High quality has always been the company's identity, and always will be," asserts Ron Buatte, president and general manager of Seabrook Foods, Inc., as he recounts some company history and lays out plans for the future at Seabrook's Fresno, CA headquarters.

The Seabrook heritage of high quality dates back nearly a century when, in 1893, Arthur Seabrook began farming his 78 acres of land in New Jersey and selling his fresh produce in nearby towns. The Seabrook reputation for fine quality and expert service in the frozen food industry dates to the late 1920s and early 1930s, when Seabrook's eldest son Charles worked with Clarence Birdseye in pioneering the technology and viability of America's frozen food industry. In the early days, when Birdseye headed the Birds Eye Division of the newly-created General Foods Corporation, Seabrook produced frozen vegetables for General Foods.

The Seabrook Farms label came to the industry in 1942 when Birdseye and Seabrook each created his own brand as the frozen food industry leaped into major production with the exploding demands of World War II. In the subsequent 50 years Seabrook has continued to pioneer advances in the frozen food industry.

In the fifty years of the Seabrook Farms brand, corporate management and ownership has followed a somewhat circuitous route. However, says Buatte, the basic standards of concern for quality and service--and pride in providing it--have been doggedly retained.

From the beginning the Seabrooks insisted on total control of their product, from the seed ready for spring planting to the delivery of the finished product to their customers. That control of product, Buatte says, is the base on which the company will continue to operate as it looks toward a second half century for the Seabrook brand and prepares to meet the challenges of the 21st Century for the frozen food industry.

It was just last August that Buatte took over the reigns of Seabrook Foods, Inc., now a sales and marketing cooperative which is owned by five major frozen vegetable and fruit processors. He assumed the head position from Howard Masters, a long time frozen food executive, who retired after nine years as founding president of the Seabrook Foods cooperative.

Today the company provides full line service of frozen fruits and vegetables with more than 75 items on its product list. Along with the Seabrook Farms brand, a large part of the business is private label and controlled label in the retail, wholesale and food service markets. While the product line includes specialty vegetable blends and a line of Southern products, much of today's marketplace demand is for commodity items, says Buatte.

"Our unique corporate structure of packer/owners means that we grow, pick, pack and process almost everything we sell," explains Buatte. The company has ten processing centers. He does, however, have the authority to source product wherever it is available, worldwide. Today, he points out, the food industry is an international marketplace. The problems of the food industry when the supply of seasonal foods was highly susceptible to the whims and sometimes fierce ravages of Mother Nature are today greatly mitigated with the advance of food growing and processing technology worldwide.

"My first responsibility is to keep a reliable supply of high quality product in the pipeline. Sometimes that can become a high-wire juggling act," he admits. However, with the Seabrook Foods network of dedicated suppliers, its resource of nine frozen distribution centers nationwide, and a unique computer system which provides precise control over inventory, movement, sales and shipments, Seabrook provides complete frozen food service to the food industry.

Buatte has a top notch support staff to help achieve the Seabrook Foods, Inc. ambitious service goals. Takao Yoshida is vice president of administration and finance, actually Buatte's right hand man and day-to-day manager. Yoshida began with Seabrook Foods in 1960 and is the architect of the company's unique and sophisticated computer system which tracks processing orders and shipment and provides detailed reporting and invoices procedures.

Debra D. Lundquist is purchasing manager, who also heads up the marketing program for the Seabrook Farms Branded line. She creates and coordinates design, procurement and management for all private label branded packaging customers.

Pamela Quirk heads the customer service department which takes and inputs customer orders and responds to service needs of distributors, brokers and direct sale customers.

Tom Minas is in charge of inventory control. He heads the planning and future sales budgeting duties, and keeps track of company inventory.

Ron Buatte describes one aspect of Seabrook Foods that is special in the frozen food industry. "One key function to our business is our service," he says. "We are a one-stop operation. I can provide any variety and quantity of product to any customer in one delivery load with one invoice, and often within just a matter of days. In fact, pick up of overnight orders at any one of our distribution centers is often possible," says Buatte.

Seabrook's national sales and distribution network is organized so that regional sales managers work closely with a strong network of food brokers throughout the country. Their service includes stock and sales planning, and assistance in procurement and promotion. Foodservice customers include schools, hospitals, restaurants and other institutional buyers.

The Seabrook Foods product list includes traditional vegetables in 6 oz. and 48 oz. sizes, the Gold Foil line of Seabrook Premium Vegetables, Seabrook Farms International Vegetable Mixtures, Individually Quick Frozen (I.Q.F.) international mixtures, I.Q.F. pack fruit product, fruit syrup pack and a line of fruit punches.

"Computerized inventory control and constant monitoring of marketing and promotional activity provide the input necessary to have product where and when it is needed," is the company description of its service and distribution. Distribution plans include direct shipments from production plants by truck or rail, complete inventories at a local warehouse for pick up as needed, or a combination of local inventories and direct shipments.

Ron Buatte begins the careful annual planning process in early January. Careful planning, he says, is where all production and distribution begins. Buatte goes over projected sales figures and product numbers with the headquarters staff. Those product numbers go to the production facility centers so they can start planting as early as April. Specification of seed varieties and planting times are the beginning of quality control.

"Now the processors are heads-up on what our needs are going to be at the beginning of their annual planting," says Buatte. "To the extent that Mother Nature lets us, we now are assured that they can produce what we need."

Control now turns to the cooperative's member/packers. Each has long experience in the frozen food industry. They include Bellingham Frozen Foods, Inc., Bellingham, WA; Comstock Michigan Fruit, Rochester, N.Y.; Patterson Frozen Foods, Inc., Patterson, CA; Seabrook Brothers & Sons Inc., Seabrook, NJ and J.R. Wood, Inc., Atwater, CA.

Their own field men oversee the growing and harvesting. Processing is also participant-controlled. Seabrook Food's specifications for such things as color, definition, maturity and size of the final product are carefully followed at the quality control centers of the packers.

All levels of frozen food technology, from the solid time-tested processes to state-of-the-art techniques are at work for the company.

"It is my business to see that we maintain the price/value ratio to the consumer that is so vital to the health of the frozen food industry," says Ron Buatte. Keeping adequate supply based on that ratio is the challenge. "Whether we are faced by drought, white fly, spinach mold or strawberry shortages, we must move to keep the most advantageous balance between quality, quantity and price."

"We may never get rich keeping this business going, but we surely will never get bored," laughs this veteran of 22 years in the industry.

When he came out of the service in 1969 Buatte went to work for a food brokerage company which he represented in San Antonio, TX. He then spent eight years with Hunt Wesson Foods, serving Texas and the Southwest, the Baltimore/Washington area, and eventually in Memphis, all in sales and sales management. In 1978 he went to Bellingham Frozen Foods, Bellingham, WA as national sales manager and, eventually, vice-president. From there he went to the J.R. Simplot Company in Caldwell, ID as director of sales and marketing for their Fruit and Vegetable Division, and, in August to Seabrook Foods, Inc. He has a degree in economics from the University of Texas business school and has done post-graduate studies. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Fresno.

Buatte believes that the survival of the unique Seabrook Foods, Inc. cooperative for ten years speaks to the acceptance in the marketplace of the stability, quality and strength of the Seabrooks Farms label, and the company's strong private label program. "When this company emerged from a spinoff as Spring Mills (the textile giant) divested itself of its food operations in 1982, plenty of people in the industry said we would never survive," he recalls.

The Seabrook Farms label has always had a strong presence in the East and certain Midwest areas. Its Creamed Spinach has been a standard bearer for years, outselling all competitors, and bringing other Seabrook products along on its strength. When the original Seabrook company acquired the Snow Crop label in 1957 (a nationally recognized label) valuable channels of sales and distribution were opened, increasing the strength of the Seabrook identity.

That recognition of high quality and reliable service, says Buatte, was the factor that sustained the new company ten years ago.

The future of his company, and, indeed, of the frozen industry, Buatte believes, is in maintaining the appropriate price to value ratio in the eyes of the consumer.

But consumer education is bottom line to that continued and growing perception. Buatte believes that the frozen food industry faces a heads-up battle with the "raw food guys" to help consumers realize the true value of frozen food. The industry has taken a significant beating in the marketplace from the produce industry over the past decade, he admits.

There is little doubt where he stands in the promotion of frozen foods facts and ideas.

Freshness: Frozen foods are processed within a few hours of picking. What is called "fresh" in many supermarket produce departments can be a full week or ten days out of the field.

Nutrition: The loss of nutrition from non-processed fruits and vegetable by exposure to air and heat is widely recognized. Modern frozen food processes yield very little nutritional loss from fruits and vegetables and actually lock in the primary values of vitamins and minerals until the product comes out of the package.

Purity: Fruits and vegetables are frozen without the use of artificial ingredients, chemicals, additives, not even salt. When fruits are processed with syrup, even "natural" fruit sweeteners are often used. (Although, he says, there is nothing artificial about sugar.)

Waste: What most consumers leave washed and clipped in the sink has already been left at the back door of the processors, to be put to other uses. With frozen foods, you don't pay for what you can't eat.

Convenience: Most frozen foods can be cooked or microwaved in just minutes, with a minimum of handling or use of utensils. In today's world of the increasing demand for convenience, frozen foods are a natural solution.

The consumer educational challenge, Ron Buatte asserts, is a challenge that belongs to everyone in the industry. Such organizations as the Frozen Vegetable Council (which he was involved in organizing) and the Frozen Food Association, which also celebrates its 50th year in 1992, are carrying the major load of educating both the industry, brokers and distributors and the ultimate consumer.

"But it is up to all of us to find the economic means to tell the story of the attributes of our business," says Buatte. "We have to push that education needle. The time is ripe with today's growing public concern about wellness and extended healthful life. At every corner we hear that fruits and vegetables are essential to those goals. We have to tell the world that we play a vital role in that search for continued good health."

As to the future of his chosen industry, Buatte is both prepared for change and prepared for growth. In the long run he believes the future is bright. However, he has little doubt there will be a shake out in the frozen food industry. "Through the past two decades of acquisition and consolidation our customer base is shrinking, even though the market is broadening. Competition is tight. We are all put on notice to run a tighter, more efficient operation."

Growth, he warns must come from prudent study of demographics and consumer preference. Opportunity lies in broadening carefully targeted markets. The greying population is certainly one, and presents even greater urgency to his cry for education. With the "middle-aging" of America, consumers express growing health concerns, show increased recognition of the importance of good nutrition, and yet hold a sharper eye for that ever-present price/value ratio. Buatte believes that frozen foods, especially fruits and vegetables, must tell their value story to this audience.

Changing population areas represent another opportunity. Growth in the Sunbelt can mean growth in a frozen food consumer base.

As far as product development is concerned there are opportunities in providing the industry with its growing requirements of "value added" products. The expanding market of frozen entrees and dinners, and those made possible by increased packaging technology of package-to-heat-to-table all represent new product possibilities.

Efficient distribution holds another challenge for the industry. "We pride ourself on providing excellent service to both our large customers and the smaller operator. To keep product fresh and in good condition at the retail, wholesale and foodservice level, we are working hard at providing Just In Time service--a tough goal for this industry. Not every customer has the product turnover necessary to benefit from more frequent product delivery. We are ready to work with our customers to achieve that goal."

For the present Seabrook Foods, Inc. is working hard at what it does best: provide high quality product with storage, delivery and customer service they believe sets the standard for the industry.

And, says Ron Buatte, Seabrook will continue to do it with pride.

HOWARD I. MASTERS, RETIRED PRESIDENT OF SEABROOK FOODS, INC.

When Howard Masters first went to work for Seabrook Farms as a regional sales manager in 1955, he had no thought that he would some day be the retiring president of a company bearing the Seabrook corporate name some 50 years after the brand was born.

Masters' career in the frozen food industry and the Seabrook never-quite-straight road through its almost 100-year management history have converged and parted several times. Somehow the Seabrook Farms label (now 50 years old) and the Seabrook identity as a producer and purveyor of high quality vegetables and fruits was too tenacious to disappear. And so was he.

Masters came to the creation of a newborn Seabrook Foods, Inc. in 1982. It would be his duty to help breathe corporate health back into a company that most frozen food professionals said at that time would never survive.

Now Howard Masters certainly does not speak of his work with Seabrook Foods in quite those heroic terms. He does say clearly, though, that in 1982, when Seabrook Foods, which had once been a giant in the frozen food industry, faced a quiet demise in the final stages of piece meal sell off by its corporate parent, Spring Mills, there were enough businessmen in the industry who believed that Seabrook Foods should continue to live, in some form or other.

"My major task during that first year of corporate rebirth was to not let this new company come unglued," he states, with typical directness. This newly created Seabrook Foods, Inc. came together as a sales and marketing arm of the cooperative ownership of five growers and packers who had been suppliers to Seabrook Foods over the years. These packers believed that the value of the Seabrook Farms brand and the strength of the company's sustained private label business was a solid enough base on which to continue the business.

So Howard Masters became founding president of the continuing Seabrook Foods, Inc., owner of the venerable Seabrook Farms brand and marketer and manager of a full line of frozen vegetables and fruit.

And, according to his peers, on July 31, 1991 he became probably the first Seabrook president in the company's history to retire. (In 1959, C.F. Seabrook, then 79 years old and son of the founder of the company, sold his controlling interest in Seabrook Farms Co. to Seeman Brothers, Inc.) Masters smilingly says he is happy to have this "probable" honor, and expects the company will continue vigorously enough to provide retirement for other presidents to follow.

(James M. Seabrook, Sr. and Charles S. Seabrook II, great grandsons of founder Arthur Seabrook, formed Seabrook Brothers & Sons, Inc. in 1977 to continue a frozen food operation near the original factory site in Seabrook, N.J.)

Howard Masters is quite clear about the reasons for his company's survival and success. "Over the years Seabrook Foods has always been able to maintain a high quality image. There was never any compromise of that," he states.

Masters says it is particularly important to pay tribute to the very strong broker organization that has served Seabrook over the years. "In my opinion, they are the ones out there on a day-to-day basis doing the hard sell. They had to believe in the viability of this new company, and its ability to keep a reliable flow of high quality product in the market. They believed, so we prospered," he says. He points to the Boerner Company in New York, for instance, which has represented the Seabrook Farms brand in the New York area for at lest 40 years and the many others who have helped sustain Seabrook's continued strong presence in the Eastern Seaboard, the Mid Atlantic and South Atlantic states and the Midwest.

When he accepted the challenge to head the new Seabrook Foods, Inc. at the Fresno, CA headquarters, Masters says the goal was never to try to expand the branded product line into the western market. It was important to maintain the company's strength in the eastern markets with the Seabrook Farms brand and its private label business.

Howard Masters has certainly been a part of that development. To understand his interest in sustaining the company through the 1980s, and to give tribute to his background in the frozen food industry that made this possible, it is helpful to recount his Seabrook Foods history.

He began his career in the frozen food industry in the early 1950s with Mrs. Paul's Kitchen. He eagerly accepted the opportunity to join the Seabrook company as a regional sales manager in 1955, just about the time that the Seabrook group acquired the Snow Crop label from Minute Maid. That opened up new sales territories and Masters represented the company out of Dallas, Texas, covering the Southwest.

He returned to Seabrook, N.J. as a brand manager of prepared foods. At that time the company carried a large list of value-added products packaged in a boil-in-a-bag packaging that Seabrook had pioneered.

Today, he says, the lone Seabrook Farms survivor of the value-added line is Seabrook Farms Creamed Spinach, which has remained a single item heavy-weight in frozen food industry, continuing to outsell every other competitor through the years.

Masters next moved to the private label division of Seabrook. In 1962, when the Seabrook family sold the company to Seeman Brothers, he opted to move to Bells, Tenn. with the Wintergarden company. In the meantime several Seabrook reorganizations ensued, and in 1966 he was asked to return as vice president of sales and marketing. By 1970 the company had been renamed Seabrook Foods, Inc. and Masters became president of Seabrook Farms, now a division of Seabrook Foods.

Shortly after the acquisition of Seabrook Foods by Springs Mills he moved to Seabrook corporate headquarters in Atlanta, GA as executive vice president of Seabrook Foods. He left the complexities of major corporate ownership in 1976 to problem-solve at the Watsonville Canning and Frozen Fruit Co. in California (now owned by NorCal). He had also been in a frozen vegetable venture in Virginia, and operated his own brokerage firm.

When several founding board members of the newly proposed Seabrook Foods, Inc. cooperative called him in 1982 to help create and operate the new Seabrook Foods, Inc., he was well prepared for the challenge.

When he takes a realistic look back at the rocky road of corporate leadership of the Seabrook operation, he observes, "This has been a company that simply would not die. There is something in the history and attitude that has helped it sustain over complexities and problems that would have sent lesser folks into corporate oblivion."

It seems quite appropriate that these two veterans of the frozen foods wars, Seabrook Farms, now 50 years old, and Howard Masters, having completed 40 years in the industry, should salute each other for jobs well done.

In 1960 when Takao Yoshida was a young college graduate he went to work for Seabrook Farms, Inc. in Seabrook, New Jersey. The old Seabrook company, he will tell you, was a pioneer for the frozen food industry in everything from controlled planting to freezing technology. They were also pioneers in the use of computers in the frozen food industry, and they sent young Takao Yoshida to International Business Machines (IBM, the pioneering computer company) to study computer systems and put that knowledge to work for Seabrook Foods.

Today Yoshida is vice president of administration and finance of Seabrook's corporate headquarters in Fresno, CA. He is, in effect, operations manager of the company, with day to day management responsibilities for such on-going operations as inventory control, customer service, accounting and data processing.

He also is the individual in 1992 Seabrook management who represents the history, the experience, understanding of the early company --the thread of continuity of purpose and philosophy on which the company has based its long-held reputation for high quality, excellent service and competitive price.

On the advent of the 50th anniversary of the Seabrook Farms frozen food label, Yoshida is quick to enunciate those qualities as synonymous with Seabrook Foods. But he is most modest and reticent in enunciating his own role in building on thse qualities to assure that the company continues to be so identified.

It was Yoshida's 31 year's of Seabrook Food's experience, watching it through growth and change, that led to the creation of the company's current unique computer system. Takao Yoshida is the architect. It is this computer system which permits the company to provide unequaled billing, shipping and inventory services to its customers. No one else, he says, is able to provide the same complex data with the speed and effectiveness that Seabrook Foods does.

In describing present day Seabrook Foods, Yoshida says, "We are unique in the industry. We are a single-source full line supplier. Most suppliers are specialized packers. In our present consolidated operation as the marketing arm of the packer-owned cooperative, we are able to supply retailers, distributors and wholesalers with a full range of vegetables and fruits."

He is not modest when talking about what the company has to offer. "Our theme here is quality. We provide high quality products and excellent service. Seabrook Farms has always been known as a quality house, and has had very special service and inventory control."

The key requirement to providing that kind of service, he says, is reliable supply. And the supply and inventory control depends on a good computer system.

The company is presently converting its computer system to a state-of-the-art IBM AS400. But it is not the hardware, but the software that provides centralized control, making it possible for Seabrook Foods to offer precise control and reporting over inventory, movement, sales, shipment and billing from throughout the Seabrook system.

Yoshida designed the computer system. However, he quickly adds, the programming was done by three Seabrook Foods employees who were top-notch in their programming skills. The real programming genius was Juhan Ereline, who was still involved with the system when he passed away in 1986," he says. Today the system works so successfully that Toshida manages with just one employee on maintenance.

It was Yoshida who provided the system analysis and design. "In designing a system, you study the problem and design a solution," he states matter of factly. With the help of his talented staff they captured data to provide a complete customer profile, building in sales history, distribution and inventory histories. This is the database on which the control and reporting system are based.

Yoshida may not be pleased to have his contribution to Seabrook Foods recounted. "Don't put that in the article. I tell you this just so you can understand the company," he tells an interviewer. But this combination of his days with the company as it grew and changed since 1960, and his education and knowledge of computers, which grew through and with the company, is the basis for this database and the services it can provide.

In the early days he was the manager of data processing in Seabrook, N.J. After the company was bought by Springs Mills (1973), he moved to the new corporate headquarters in Lancaster, S.C. Here his position was more liaison between the Seabrook function and Springs Mills. "When Seabrook Foods headquarters was moved to California in 1979 and I was offered the opportunity to move with them, I jumped at the chance," he says. "California has always held a certain mystique--and with its moderate climate is a most pleasant place to live.

There is no lack of pride in his statements when Takao Yoshida talks about the company today. "With our computer system we can tailor a product line and marketing and inventory plan directly to suit any customer's needs."

"What we do well is provide high quality products, we stay responsive to our customers with unequaled service, and have competitive pricing. That is an unbeatable combination."

Debra Lundquist, whose title with Seabrook Foods is purchasing manager, has marketing and management duties that might prove daunting to someone with less vitality. In fact the title "juggler" might be added to her business card.

Not that this is the impression that Lundquist wishes to give. In her quiet manner she describes the unique services of the Seabrook Foods, Inc. She heads the development and procurement of packaging materials and programs and marketing services for Seabrook Farms branded label.

"Because of our cooperative structure, I think the service Seabrook Foods offers is a complete program concept," she explains. Under her direction the company can design and develop a complete full-scale packaging program for private label customers. "We can develop the product idea with the client, coordinate activity with the design and packaging suppliers, put in place the distribution program they desire, put their inventory control into our system and manage it for them."

There are presently 15 such private label customers at Seabrook Foods. Two factors make this service possible. First, she says, through Seabrook's packers the company has in place a strong sourcing, inventory control and broker system. "Second, we have to be extremely well organized," she admits. Also, being primarily a purveyor of commodity vegetables and fruits, the product line available to be developed is complete but not complex. There is always a challenge to develop new interesting vegetable products for blends."

When Lundquist assumed her present position at Seabrook she was not a newcomer. She got her first marketing experience in frozen foods in the Seabrook Foods marketing department in Fresno in 1980, when the company was still a wholly-owned subsidiary of Springs Mills. She was fresh out of college carrying a degree in food science with a business emphasis. "It was just the right kind of background for this business," she says.

When the company restructured in 1982, Lundquist went on to work in product development and marketing for other food companies. Now back at Seabrook, over the past three years she has continued to refine and develop the process and control of Seabrook's large packaging inventory. She works six months to a year ahead with each customer to keep those supplies in the pipeline. She systematically reviews each customer program.

Lundquist says, "Control has become the main emphasis regarding our packaging materials, as it has become more complicated through the years with more product being packed all over the country and the world. |Control,' keeping track of all material shipping from one place to another everyday, takes good communication and records to keep an accurate account of inventories and assure that materials are available whenever and wherever needed."

The immediate future is going to be a busy time for Debra Lundquist. "Carrying out the positions of the FDA's Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, with its May 1993 mandatory compliance deadline will be no small feat," says Lundquist.

She must evaluate each product label for each private label customer as well as each of the Seabrook Farms branded items. "I am starting the review process now. When the final regulations are in place, we can expedite the changes," she explains.

Full label listings must include calories, breakdown of fats, carbohydrates, protein, sodium, fiber, all vitamin and mineral listings, except for foods containing only trace amounts of the five or more nutrients. Fortunately with commodity vegetables there are not complex formulas or ingredients to be dealt with.

As for innovation and change in packaging in the frozen food industry, Lundquist says designs continue to be improved for microwaveable containers as the future continues to expand in that direction. Frozen foods need certain types of packaging barriers, but what is now in place in the industry works well. The most recent changes in packaging come from the printing side of the process.

Changes in engraving plates and print dyes allow a brighter, sharper look to the package. Engraving plates are changing from copper and engravings to the use of photo polymer prints plates, which offer sharper reproduction capabilities. The result is a fresher, more realistic representation of the product. "In design work, the advances and changes seem to be coming from the photography end," she says, offering more exciting real life looks for vegetables and fruits.

Brighter looking packaging helps a product stand out in today's product-crowded freezer shelves. Sometimes a company will go through a major design change involving the company's entire product line. Recently, for instance, Dominicks Finer Foods, the supermarket chain based in the Chicago area, a Seabrook private label company, initiated an across-the-board redesign that included everything from cosmetics to dog food. It took careful planning and coordination to meet their frozen food packaging specifications and changes so they took their proper place in the overall new look.

Promotion, advertising and consumer education also is handled in Debra Lundquist's office. Most consumer education and product promotion is aimed at the network of distributors and brokers. The retail advertising is focused in the East, where the company has its highest sales concentration. There newspaper advertising, on-pack premium offers, tie-in promotions and in-store demonstrations are used.

Debra Lundquist says she has worked with some of the people who pioneered with Seabrook Foods and paved the way in the frozen food industry. Some are still involved with the company. "While we are a company moving toward the future, that sense of history and pride stays with us. What we do in the frozen industry, we do well. It has always been that way," she states, with quiet pride.

Customer service plays a critical role in keeping a sharp competitive edge in today's tight business climate, says Pamela Quirk, customer service manager at Seabrook Foods, Inc.

"Prompt, friendly and accurate resolution of customer needs has evolved to become a key part of the service and the image of a business. To stay competitive, we have to provide the best," says this 16-year veteran of Seabrook Foods, Inc.

Mrs. Quirk and her carefully trained staff of three are at the helm from 6 am to 5 pm (PST) Monday through Friday taking and processing orders and responding quickly and professionally to the needs of their distributors, brokers and direct-sales customers nationwide.

"I think customer service can make or break a company," is her observation. "We have the majority direct contact with the customer. How we treat them and their needs, how well we respond and how happy we keep them has a direct bearing on their image of our company."

The responsibilities of Mrs. Quirk and her staff are many. Her brisk but friendly manner speaks to her commitment to those responsibilities.

Her department receives and processes orders through the Seabrook computer system. These orders are transmitted to the warehouses. Customer service can track an order from the time it is received until it is shipped to a storage facility and ultimately delivered and invoiced. The distributor and broker accounts and Seabrook sales staff are divided up among the customer service staff. Each sales system has a separate network and each customer service representative has an area of primary responsibility. However, says Mrs. Quirk, the staff is well cross-trained to respond to any customer need that arises during her shift. "We never refer a customer on to someone else. It is our task to develop customer trust that we will promptly bring them the answers they need."

The Seabrook theme of pride is evident as this woman talks about the company and the fifty-year old brand it represents. "Seabrook Farms has the identity of quality. It has always been a high quality product. That is why our customers expect the best of us. And we provide it."

Customer service has changed considerably since Mrs. Quirk assumed her present duties in 1985. At that time most orders were received directly by telephone. Today they arrive by FAX and computer. "Today 95% of our orders come through on paper. Our on-phone time is spent in handling follow up work, passing on information to the brokers, processing customer needs," she explains.

These needs are a varied lot. She has had to find out how many times a leaf is actually cut in cut-leaf spinach. She knows the diameter of a crinkle cut carrot, and can tell you how many melon balls are contained in a 16 oz. package of mixed melon balls. One day she received a call of desperation from a woman eight months pregnant. The woman had recently moved from New York to Florida and could not find her beloved Seabrook Farms Creamed Spinach in her local markets. "This woman was desperate," remembers Mrs. Quirk. This customer service expert learned the names of the woman's local markets, contacted the closest Seabrook Farms broker, and withn the hour had the woman and her grateful husband happily on their way to pick up Seabrook Farms Creamed Spinach.

Most other customer neeeds, however, are not quite so consumer-specific. She may have to track down ten cases of mis-shipped product. Her staff does daily tracking of rail cars, so she can pinpoint warehouse arrivals and delivery dates and time. "If there is a quality control question, we track the item back to its production place and date through production codes. Our computer network serves us very well," she reports.

Pam Quirk's responsiblities have grown considerably since the day she began work at the Sanger, CA plant when Seabrook Foods was still owned by Spring Mills in 1975. "I spent my first four weeks labelling file folders in the credit department." Since then she has worked with accounts receivable, accounts payable, moved to the billing department where she became billing supervisor.

From her customer service seat Pamela Quirk has a clear view of marketing trends and changes. End consumers are very price conscious today, she observes. Seabrook Foods will serve them," predicts this customer service professional.

Tom Minas, who heads inventory control and planning, started with Seabrook Foods 12 years ago, when the company was still under the Spring Mills umbrella. The corporate structure and total operation, he says, "was huge."

What impresses him today is that the streamlined Seabrook Foods Inc. cooperative still handles sales, marketing and supply into most of the same markets. "Although the structure is totally different, we still maintain full-line service. Amazing."

From his "control central" viewpoint in his Fresno headquarters office, Minas is in the pivotal spot to head this operation's network of supply and shipment. He does much of the nuts and bolts of annual production planning, with the assistance of the sophisticated Seabrook Foods computers systems. It is also up to him to see that inventory flows in a timely manner.

He starts the year with a budget of anticipated sales. Yes, he does admit this entails some crystal-balling along with real projected sales figures from sales centers. From these figures he develops a pack plan for the packers. This process varies year to year, he explains. Will the Eastern growing season produce a spring and fall crop? Production of the same item may include an early pack in California and a later-in-the-year pack out of Texas. These crops may flow to different shipping facilities. The growers and packers watch quality control so that all products meet the identical expected high quality specifications.

"It is up to me to keep track of when a product and brand is ready and where and when to ship it," explains Minas.

To keep distribution centers properly provisioned, he explains, he may be putting together shipments from six or seven locations. A truck may move from Watsonville in California south to Los Angeles, across to Texas and finally to the East Coast--in a matter of days. The product flow is nationwide--blueberries and raspberries out of the Northwest, peaches or cauliflower out of California, okra up from Florida, lima beans and spinach from New Jersey. The process, he says, is continuous.

While Just In Time (JIT) delivery may be the ideal goal for the frozen food industry, this is a major challenge to achieve. "This business is fluid, to say the least," he explains. "For instance, in mid-season a corporate buy-out may suddenly add 25 new stores to a customer's base. We have to alert our packers to fill out their full line of supplies for that label. Or a sales promotion may be unusually successful, and we may need to ship product directly from the supplier rather than a distribution warehouse."

His master inventory plan, however, is to replenish to a 60 day order point at the distribution centers. "We will always move quickly when we have to --but our main operation is planned inventory control," says Minas.

His work experience with Seabrook Foods has prepared him well for this kind of management. He began his career fresh out of college (with a degree in business administration) at Seabrook in California in 1979 as an inventory clerk. He advanced to the inventory/purchases department, then to staff accountant. When the Sanger plant was sold to Gerewan Foods by Spring Mills, he stayed with Gerewan for two years. When he returned to Seabrook in Fresno, he moved quickly to his present position.

With this daily hands-on perspective of the frozen food market, does he have any observations of the effects of todays economy, or changes in the future? "I would say that the slowed economy has effected the entire industry. Basics seems to be the consumer's focus. I am also watching the warehouse membership club market. Their large package sales may be pulling on the institutional side of our industry."

For today, however, he is busy keeping his several-hundred item inventory supply moving in all of the right directions.

James M. Seabrook, Sr. Chairman of the Board Seabrook Brothers & Sons, Inc.

James M. Seabrook, Sr., is the final family link to the company that was founded by his great grandfather in 1893. Arthur Seabrook bought 78 acres of New Jersey farmland and called his company Seabrook Farms. Later it was named Seabrook Foods, Inc.

Today James Seabrook sits on the board of directors as one of the packer/owners of the cooperative sales and marketing company named Seabrook Foods, Inc. in Fresno, CA. James Seabrook is also chairman of the board of his own family-owned company incorporated in 1977, Seabrook Brothers & Sons, Inc., in Seabrook, N.J. Other company officers are his brother Charles S. Seabrook II, president and his three sons, James M. Seabrook, Jr., William E. Seabrook and Brian E. Seabrook, each of whom holds the position of vice president, with varying responsibilities.

At the observation of the 50th anniversary of the creation of the frozen food brand, Seabrook Farms, Jim Seabrook recalls some of his own history as a member of this pioneering family in the food industry. He also talks about some of the innovations which the Seabrook's brought to the farming and technology of the frozen food industry that are now considered standards of the industry, with little continuing knowledge of their beginnings.

The engineering talent and bent which helped create the frozen food industry started with Charles Seabrook, son of founder Arthur. It was Charles who worked with Clarence Birdseye in experimenting with the quick freezing of fruits and vegetables. It was Charles who encouraged the creation of the Seabrook Farms canning plant in 1920.

It was Charles who first became interested in overhead irrigation, a process he heard was successful in Denmark. When he installed one line of irrigation pipe over a bed of celery plants and saw how the crop thrived, he expanded irrigation throughout the Seabrook operation. Soon Seabrook Farms was producing fine harvests even at times of drought, with crops that sold at premium prices.

This traditional Seabrook concern for producing high quality crops was born early, and has persisted to this day. "Seabrook Farms was always concerned with quality," says Jim. "My grandfather would pick out the best of the crop for his customers, and sell the rest to other appropriate markets." It is out of this tradition that many of the Seabrook quality control methods developed. Many of these methods now serve the industry.

He recalls that it was also Charles who pioneered the heat unit system for growing vegetables to provide a consistent flow of raw product for processing. This is now a standard in the industry.

He and Dr. Thornsthwait, a renowned agronomist who worked with Seabrook, began planting green beans on a rotation that would provide a predictable harvest just large enough to process through the company's heat units in the production plant for each production day. On April 15, 100 acres of green beans would be planted, to be harvested late in June. The next green bean planting on April 20th would be ready to harvest and process on July 1st and 2nd. This plant and harvest control is now common in the food industry," explains Seabrook.

The growth of quality control and technical advancements in the Seabrook operation became a company way of operation. "Because we helped develop this industry, the Seabrook operation has always had a strong understanding of the processes, a recognition of the need to hold to excellence, and a willingness to do it," Seabrook states matter of factly. And, of course, there was that insatiable interest in engineering. Three of Charles Seabrook's grandsons, James and his brothers Charles II and Lawrence are graduate engineers. James received his degree from Princeton University.

Jim Seabrook grew up learning and understanding this business literally from the ground up. At age ten he was hoeing corn during the 13 weeks of his summer vacation. By the time he was 17, he was permitted to work in the electric shop and then moved to maintenance. He was soon helping with harvest operations.

"Family members were all expected to work. Sixty to eighty hour work weeks was normal." (The strong work ethic of the employees which is spoken of frequently by other company employees and observers was quite evident in the Seabrook family tradition.)

A young Jim Seabrook learned the sales end of the business working for H.C. Boerner, the New York-based long time food broker representative of Seabrook products. Seabrook took a break from the company for three years as a pilot in the United States Air Force. When he returned in 1958, he took up duties as a plant manager. When the Seabrook company was sold to Seeman Brothers in 1959, Jim Seabrook continued his career with sales responsibilities.

The Seabrook Farms brand came out of the growth of the frozen food industry during World War II. Seabrook had been on the forefront in pioneering the food canning industry which developed quickly during the changing needs of World War I. When World War II created the need for vast amounts of preserved food along with the need for vast amounts of metals for the war effort, the frozen food industry burst into action. It could preserve food without using the war-needed metals necessary in producing canned foods.

Seabrook had long been processing frozen foods for the Birdseye operation at General Foods. Birdseye and Seabrook both created their branded frozen foods products during these early war years. In that same year, 1942, the American Frozen Food Institute was also created.

It was 1977 that Jim Seabrook and his brothers decided to get directly back into the food industry after years of working for the people who had bought out the original family enterprise.

The Seabrook name has always had a strong presence in the Eastern United States. There is a great deal of equity in the name. When Seabrook Foods was under the Springs Mills corporate umbrella, it was decided not to continue processing vegetables in New Jersey. Our family decided to create a processing business of our own," he reports. Many of the workers who had been so loyal to the Seabrook operations through the years came over to the new Seabrook Brothers & Sons operation. They built a new plant just half a mile from the original Seabrook, New Jersey site.

Today their product line includes apple and cranberry juice and a line of vegetables which includes (but is not limited to) chopped and leaf spinach, corn, whole green beans, wax Italian beans, Southern greens and lima beans.

The California Seabrook Foods, Inc. owns the Seabrook Foods and Seabrook Farms name. Jim Seabrook says he has always held a soft spot for these ancestors of the company founded nearly 100 years ago by his great grandfather. He became a member of the cooperative company two years ago, and says he is glad to still feel a part of that continued thread that started with his family. The continuity, says Jim Seabrook, is just fine.

Seabrook Farms/Seabrook Foods History

Seabrook Foods, Inc. celebrates the 50th birthday of its frozen food brand, Seabrook Farms, in 1992. However, the name Seabrook Farms dates back almost 100 years. The Seabrook name is closely identified with the development of the frozen food industry.

The company was founded in 1893 when Arthur Seabrook purchased 78 acres of land in New Jersey and began a fresh produce business, selling his vegetables door to door. As he prospered, he was soon delivering produce to nearby towns and cities.

However, it becomes clear through reading through various versions of this venerable company's history that the spirit of innovation and experimentation sprung from Arthur's oldest son, Charles.

Charles was a young man of engineering bent and curiosity. By 1911, young Charles visualized a truck farming operation of hundreds ("even thousands" says one history) of cropbearing acres. He desired to go into partnership with his father, and on December 31, 1912 Seabrook Farms Co. was incorporated. By 1914 the company was selling more than 200 carloads of high quality produce, mostly in the New York and Philadelphia markets. By World War I Charles Seabrook had more than 3,000 acres under cultivation, and in 1920 he had built a modern cannery adjacent to the railroad tracks in the center of the farms.

In the 1920s Seabrook began cooperating with Clarence Birdseye in his experiments in quick-freezing fish, fruits and vegetables and other foods. In 1929 General Foods acquired the Birdseye patents and shortly negotiated with Seabrook to freeze baby lima beans. The first quick frozen pack of lima beans was introduced commercially at Seabrook Farms in 1931.

General Foods made a five-year contract with Seabrook Farms to pack all frozen vegetables under the Birds Eye label. New methods of distribution and product marketing began developing during the 1930s. Special refrigeration was developed.

The needs for supplies by the Armed Forces during World War II brought unprecedented expansion to the frozen food industry. Company records say that by that time Seabrook Farms was packing some 150 consumer items.

It was in 1942, when Birdseye is reported to have launched its own branded line, that Seabrook Farms created its own brand. At the end of the war, when frozen foods were taken off the list of rationed foods and the market moved into full expansion, Seabrook Farms is reported to have had frozen fruits and vegetables in more than 30,000 food stores and hundreds of institutions between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi Valley.

In 1957 Seabrook Farms Co. pioneered the introduction of the "miracle" cook-in-the-bag plastic pouches. Included in this new line of prepared (what are now called "value added") vegetables were Asparagus Cuts and Tips in Hollandaise Sauce, Creamed Spinach, Broccoli Au Gratin and Lima Beans in Cheese Sauce. Only the Seabrook Farms Creamed Spinach is produced by the company today.

In the late 1950s competition to frozen food branded products began growing through the switch over by chain grocery businesses from national brands to their private labels. Seabrook Farms began to develop this side of its business. (In fact, it was the strength of its private label arm, along with industry-wide trust of the company's reputation for high quality that helped it survive a massive sell off of the corporation by Springs Mills in 1982.)

In 1958 Seabrook Farms was acquired by New York-based Seeman Brothers, Inc. It became a division of Francis H. Leggett and Company, and a Seeman subsidiary. Seabrook Farms had ceased to exist as a separate corporate entity, but the company grew larger and more complex through a series of acquisitions nationwide.

In 1970 the company name was changed to Seabrook Foods, Inc., with the branded line, Seabrook Farms, becoming a corporate division. In a 1971 company history, it is stated that Seabrook then processed and packed fresh produce under 35 labels, including the company's own Seabrook Farms and Snow Crop brands. They reportedly operated on 40,000 acres in the heart of the southern portion of New Jersey.

In 1973 Seabrook Foods, Inc. was acquired by Springs Mills, Inc. It was 1982 that Springs Mills made the determination to sell off its food industry divisions. The nationwide entities of processing plants and frozen food storage facilities were sold off.

Seabrook Foods, Inc. and its 50-year-old brand survive today in the form of a sales and marketing company owned by a cooperative of frozen food processors and packers. Howard Masters, the new company's founding president, retired in July, 1991. Ron Buatte directs the company as president and general manager at corporate headquarters in Fresno, CA.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Frozen Food Digest, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:includes related articles
Author:McIver, Ruth
Publication:Frozen Food Digest
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Feb 1, 1992
Words:8950
Previous Article:Foreign ownership of U.S. farmland.
Next Article:The bakery explosion in foodservice.
Topics:


Related Articles
Two Affiliates Have 50th Anniversaries.
The show must go on: Xylexpo 2002 officials gear up for Europe's biggest woodworking industry event of the year, minus two of its most prominent...
No swan song for Swanson TV dinners; manufacturer sells for healthy profit.
ASIS services & activities.
50TH BRINGS DEALS.
KCMA sets goal to plant 50,000 trees.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters