Back in the 1870s, long before Arizona achieved statehood, the Freeman family was putting down roots in an area known as Lehi, situated in the Sonoran Desert, with an eye toward agriculture.
“My grandchildren are the sixth generation here,” says Lewis Freeman, president and owner, Lehi Valley Trading Co., Mesa, AZ. “Our family has farmed here ever since.” Cotton was the choice of crop in this land of abundant sunshine. The Freeman family—like its cotton fields—grew and flourished.
Fast-forward to the early 1960s, and the Freemans began converting some of the cotton into citrus groves. They built a little roadside stand, known as the Orange Patch, offering fresh citrus products like orange juice, alongside the farm. Fortuitously, it became a destination point for hundreds of tour bus excursions. That store is still operating today—and so is the farm.
But by the 1980s, the store’s offerings had expanded to include the growing range of snacks developed by the family, which had established a snack packaging facility on the citrus farm in 1985.
“As tours and customers grew, so did their desire for a more-expansive product offering,” says Freeman. “A simple plan was put in place: better the lives of our customers and employees by offering fresh, unique, high-quality goods.”
Over the last 30-plus years since establishing Lehi Valley, the family has significantly expanded the different types of snacks offered, primarily working with retailers across the U.S. on their private label lines of caramel corn and popcorn, puffed corn snacks, snack mixes, nuts, granola, and more. Freeman and his wife, Trecia, purchased the business outright in 2000, and have steadily expanded the company’s manufacturing footprint ever since.
A private label focus
“The initial product expansion included several dried fruits, nuts and original snack mixes,” says Freeman. “Local retailers recognized the value in our new product offerings and expressed interest in purchasing and selling them as a private label program. Seizing the opportunity has blessed the lives of those we serve: our employees, customers and especially those who enjoy our premium products.” Distribution now spans across the entire U.S., and includes some foodservice customers, some of which use Lehi Valley as an ingredient supplier for their back-of-house operations.
Today, Lehi Valley offers products across six snack food categories: popcorn, puffs, granola, sweets, nuts, seeds and trail mixes. “Our clients can choose from over 650 product options, versatile private label and turn-key packaging solutions, and creative merchandising options,” says Freeman.
Currently, the company’s best-selling product is its puffed Golden Caramel Corn Nuggets. Lehi Valley offers the puffed corn snacks in other flavors, like cinnamon, as well as spicy options. Freeman notes that they’re also experimenting with other savory coatings for the puffed corn nuggets, including White Cheddar and White Cheddar Jalapeño. The puffs find strong appeal because they’re baked, not fried. They’re also free from gluten and trans fats.
The company’s production spans six buildings, each dedicated to a distinct operational function:
- Granola, popcorn (dry and wet popped)
- Oil roasting, panning and copper kettles
In total, the company operates about 13 production lines. “We purchase new equipment every year to increase our capabilities and to become more efficient,” says Freeman. The facility is SQF Level 2 certified.
“With over 150 employees, Lehi Valley has seen particularly strong growth over the last two years,” says Freeman. All operational environments are climate-controlled—not only to standardize repeatability of product, but to foster a pleasant working environment for the staff members.
Jason Burrell, senior project manager, notes that Lehi Valley has an in-house coder on staff who has built out the company’s traceability software system. “We’ve done a lot of in-house customization that is unique to us, primarily because of the complexity of the number of items that are carrying and packaging, and the number of customers we have. We have complete traceability forward and backward through our ERP system.”
Seasoning blends and new items are developed in-house. “We have great team members here that are brilliant at putting ingredients together and creating new mixes and flavor profiles,” says Burrell. These profiles are often based on new product trends, as well as customer requests, he notes.
The product mix
While retailers have a wide range of snack components to choose from to create their own customized private label lines, Lehi Valley also offers four turn-key brands: Lehi Valley, High Valley Orchard, Arizona Snack Co. and Snackworthy, the most-recent addition.
“For Snackworthy, we spent a lot of time researching trend and consumer behaviors that were impacting the snack food category, such as the better-for-you movement,” says Christie Frazier-Coleman, vice president, marketing. For Snackworthy, Lehi Valley adhered to the generally accepted list of “101 ingredients” that many retailers are avoiding in their clean-label store brand lines.
“The research also led us to millennials as being the lead group that cares the most about eating better,” says Frazier-Coleman. “So the product was initially developed with them in mind, but we’re being asked by many retailers today about which of our products are free from the ‘101 bad ingredients.’ It’s catching on.”
The Snackworthy brand offers options across multiple categories, including nuts, seeds, dried fruit, granola, trail mixes, popcorn, puffs/nuggets and more for a comprehensive program—a turn-key solution for better-for-you snacking. This depth is attractive to retailers. “I think one of the things that make us unique is that we are a single-source solution,” says Freeman.
To meet the branding needs of retailers, the company has expanded its team to offer design services. “We are equipped with an in-house design team and offer flexible service options to support small retailers to national chains with their private label needs,” says Freeman. Lehi Valley is using leading-edge design and packaging equipment to produce full-color, full-bleed custom labels with as little as a 24-hour turnaround once the order is received.
“In many cases, our products are national brand equivalent, but some products, due to their unique status, fall under the national brand better category,” says Freeman. “Lehi Valley is quite flexible, and we have the opportunity to not only imitate, but innovate. We offer a very wide range of package and labeling options and, due to our flexibility, we can innovate quickly to ensure we can match the product perfectly to our client’s brand.”
Lehi Valley offers a range of merchandising options for retailers, notes Frazier-Coleman. This includes racks and floor displays, but also a wide range of packaging options. “We can merchandise product in tubs,” she says. “That same product can be merchandised in a bag—either hung or in a stand-up pouch. Car cups are our latest endeavor, creating a product that’s a very convenience-focused option.”
The company is doing a lot more shelf-ready displays and packaging these days for retailers. “It’s just a matter of convenience for them,” says Freeman. “They’re so busy, and whatever we can do to reduce their labor and make the program simple for them is appreciated.”
Lehi Valley is a company built on integrity—valued appreciation for its employees, customers and the quality of its products. And that’s a strong formula for growth.
At a Glance
Company: Lehi Valley Trading Co.
Headquarters: Mesa, AZ
Products: Popcorn, puffs, granola, sweets, nuts, seeds, trail mixes
Brands: Lehi Valley, High Valley Orchard, Arizona Snack Co., Snackworthy
President and Owner: Lewis Freeman
Executive Vice President: Brady Freeman
Senior Project Manager: Jason Burrell
Vice President, Marketing: Christie Frazier-Coleman