cabbage on blocks of ice on rail cars down
to Chicago. And that was how this part of
the business started … Maybe a decade
in or so, they had a glut of cabbage and no
home for it, so they decided to grind it up
into kraut, and that’s how we got into the
And then out East, our Shortsville,
New York plant, I believe that was maybe
founded in 1910, I want to say, and that
was the Empire State Pickling company
is how it started. And it was its own kraut
operation. And then there was some
consolidation that happened out East, and
we were kind of competitors throughout
the 20th century, really.
… We went through kind of a round
of consolidation in the 1990s where we
bought up a number of competitors and
then actually formed a joint venture with
what was, at that time, Agrilink Foods,
which became Birds Eye Foods, and that
was born out of the Empire State Pickling
Company side of the business, if you
will. In 1997, after a few rounds of
consolidation here in Wisconsin and the
Midwest, we decided to form a joint
venture with that Eastern end of the
operation and run it as Great Lakes Kraut
from 1997 until 2003. In 2003, Agrilink,
which owned the other half of Great Lakes
Kraut, was purchased by a private equity
group … When (the private equity group)
bought (Agrilink), they either wanted to
own all of the joint venture, or none of it.
So, at that point, we bought back the other
half of the business … Since 2003, we’ve
been independent. We were called Great
Lakes Kraut until 2010 when we changed
the name to GLK Foods, just kind of as an
indication we’re going to be doing things
other than kraut.
FM: Can you give us a sense of the GLK
operation/yearly cycle for sauerkraut
RMD: The (cabbage) crop comes in in
kind of a set time (August-November), but
we’re different than a traditional cannery
in that we are producing all year round.
So that (sauerkraut) doesn’t need to make
it into a can or a bag or a jar or a barrel
or a tote right when it comes in off the
field, because it holds in the (facility’s
holding tanks). When it’s warm like this (in
September) and the field temps are higher,
that kraut can ferment out in ten days and
be ready to go. When you bring it in, in the
beginning of November … it can take three
months, four months. What happens is, it
gets to a certain acid level, and it plateaus.
We don’t want to hold it in the tank any
more than a year. You could, but we don’t
have any reason to. It’s nice in that regard.
Our cheapest form of inventory is to keep it
in our tanks.
… We would try and carry a little
safety stock into maybe the third week
of September (the following year) or
something like that, just in case the
cabbage comes on a little late (the next
season). You just don’t want to find yourself
without. And then you just kind of hold
some back in the tanks so that you can
divert it where needed … It cycles perfectly.
It’s supposed to, let’s put it that way.
FM: Can you describe the sauerkraut
production process at a GLK facility?
RMD: Large raw heads of cabbage are
dumped on a pad and then conveyed
into (the facility). Heads are washed and
Heads of raw cabbage are tumbled
and washed to remove dirt, and
employees remove excess green
outer wrapper leaves before the
cabbage is conveyed to large
shredding blades and made into slaw
at the Bear Creek, Wisconsin facility
of GLK Foods. The Bear Creek facility
has the ability to process 1,200 tons
of raw cabbage in a day.