achievements allow Shearer’s Foods to rise above the crowd and achieve ‘Shearer Perfection.’
Marina Mayer, Executive Editor
When the economy spiraled downward, several manufacturers hunkered down, scaled back operations, ceased creating new products and eliminated product lines. Some producers even shut their doors completely.
But for companies like Shearer’s Foods, Inc., everything is an opportunity, even in uncertain economical times.
Instead of hiding underneath their bottom line, the Brewster, Ohio-based snack manufacturer rose above the fear and hesitation that forced most companies to hold back. Instead, it forged ahead, creating a future unlike those suffering from economical woes. With two new product lines, updated packaging initiatives and the introduction of the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum snack manufacturing facility in the world, located in Massillon, Ohio, Shearer’s Foods was experiencing what it calls, “Shearer Perfection.”
“To get to where we are today, you have to get better in all areas,” says Bob Shearer, chairman, co-founder and chief executive officer. “You have to keep pushing yourself every day to do better. It’s like a treadmill. If you stop, you’re going to go backward. [Shearer perfection is] quality, it’s sustainability, it’s wellness, it’s safety. It’s also all about the people.”
A combination of rich culture, sustainable practices, better-for-you products and a devotion to being, well, perfect, have allowed Shearer’s Foods to garner Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery’s Snack Manufacturer of the Year award for the second time in 10 years.
Everything is an opportunity, Shearer says. That’s why Shearer’s Foods continues to perfect itself over and over again.
“Within our industry, we’re trying to become a better-for-you, healthier snack [company], and we’ve put a lot of emphasis on our product offerings,” Shearer says.
For instance, it rebranded its Tangos tortilla chips under the Shearer’s label, which consists of four all-natural varieties, he adds.
Categorized as “Na’Cho Ordinary Tortilla Chips,” Tangos all-natural tortilla chips have no trans fat and are low in sodium. The all-natural line includes Blue Corn with Sesame Seeds, Blue Corn and Berries, Fire Roasted Veggie and Flaxseed with Sesame. Tangos’ white corn options include Restaurant Style, Margarita Lime, Cantina Style and Bite Size, whereas the yellow corn varieties are available in Cheesy Nacho, Deli Rounds and Habanero Queso.
For consumers in search of whole grain chips, the Shapers brand of trans-fat-free chips is a sensible snacking alternative. The chips provide a good source of whole grains and fiber and come in Sea Salt, Cheddar, Cinnamon and Black Bean and Salsa varieties.
Shearer’s Foods also produces extra crunchy, kettle-cooked artisan chips in Original, Mesquite, Salt and Pepper, Salt and Vinegar, Jalapeño, Sweet Barbeque, Unsalted and Reduced Fat Original options.
In addition to its lineup of chips, Shearer’s Foods produces pretzels, such as its all-natural and fat-free Thins, Minis and Sticks, and a host of potato chips, including Home-Style Classic, Wavy, Kettle-Cooked, Original Thin and Rippled.
Despite its vast number of flavors, the Shearer’s Classic Home-Style potato chip still reigns as the top-selling variety, Shearer says, followed by the Original Kettle-Style and Reduced-Fat Kettle Chips.
“It goes back to the basics,” he adds. “Our staples are the most popular, but we have a wide variety of seasonings to meet consumer tastes.”
From a better-for-you snack standpoint, says Scott Smith, president, revenue stems from its whole grain Shapers, Reduced-Fat Kettle Chips and its award-winning, gluten-free Riceworks tortilla chips.
“At the end of the day, our snacks all taste really good, but some consumers want healthier product attributes. With our veggie tortilla [chips], you can eat one serving and get one-third of your vegetable requirements for the day,” he adds. “I think it’s more fun to eat tortilla chips than eating vegetables.”
Goodness beyond the bag
Shearer’s Foods didn’t attain “Shearer Perfection” overnight. In 1974, Shearer, along with his parents, Jack and Rosemary, and brother Tom, acquired a one-truck Wise potato chip distributor to complement their local grocery store, which was once owned by Shearer’s great-great grandfather, William. About five years later, the Shearers’ built one route into five routes.
“When we decided to manufacture our own potato chips, we rented a 2,500-sq.-ft. building and bought a used kettle fryer that made 125 lb. of potato chips per hour, and started bagging them in poly bags, with a twist tie and a label and distributed them to the local market,” Shearer says.
Today, Shearer’s Foods owns six plants and 70 production lines, which produce more than 40,000 lb. of product an hour. The 200,000-sq.-ft. headquarters plant in Brewster, Ohio sits on 77 acres, which is 10 times the size of the original facility, Shearer points out.
“Our next plant [purchase] was in Lubbock, Texas, and our next acquisition was a pretzel factory in Canonsburg, Pa.,” he adds. “Then we started construction on our new Millennium manufacturing facility in Massillon, which opened in April 2010 (the first platinum, LEED-certified snack food manufacturing plant in the world).”
Simultaneously, Shearer’s Foods acquired the Vancouver, Canada-based Snack Alliance, Inc., which included two manufacturing facilities (Hermiston, Ore., and Bristol, Va.), and its Riceworks brand of better-for-you snacks. The Snack Alliance purchase expanded Shearer’s already broad sales reach to a total of 18 countries for its branded, co-pack and private-label products.
Fritz Kohmann, chief financial officer, says that Shearer’s competitive advantages are its broad range of product capabilities, geographic reach and the company’s focus on quality and food safety programs. Shearer’s is unique in its ability to offer customers a full line of innovative snacks on a national scale, he adds. Shearer’s has also made significant investments in state-of-the-art quality and food safety processes and systems to meet and exceed increased customer requirements, enabling them to offer customers a unique value in the market.
Shearer’s Foods also has been able to target all channels of distribution within each location, with sales predominantly concentrated within grocery, mass, clubstore and foodservice.
While this core business remains strong, Shearer’s must continually stay in tune with leading-edge trends.
“As a company, we’re seeing positive growth in organic,” Shearer says. “The better-for-you category is gaining momentum.” Therefore, Shearer’s wants to develop better-for-you snacks because as Shearer says, that’s the future.
As this issue goes to press, Shearer’s Foods is redesigning its packaging to highlight better-for-you messages and call out healthy attributes.
There are many health issues that are important to consumers, such as lower sodium and gluten-free, Smith says, and the packaging needs to be a careful balance of providing the right information combined with attractive graphics to drive the purchase, he adds.
That’s why the folks at Shearer’s Foods conducted several online consumer panels, asking for feedback on products and packaging.
Whether it’s their deep family culture, multitude of sustainable practices, numerous better-for-you snacks or their perseverance to continue forward, Shearer’s Foods defines pure excellence and prestige, and of course, that “Shearer Perfection.”