CALEDONIA, Minn. — The Gengler family and its Sno Pac Foods Inc., founded in 1943, are pioneers in frozen organic food.
In fact, the Caledonia business says it was the world’s first grower/processor of frozen organic vegetables. Today, it also sells frozen fruit and frozen juice concentrate.
This summer, the 70-year-old company is expanding into a new addition to its offices and processing plant at 521 W. Enterprise St. The new 27,000-square-foot structure houses additional freezers and soon will house packaging operations, which are moving from another building in Caledonia. A public open house will be held when the project is completed, company President Pete Gengler said.
While the family-owned business doesn’t give out annual sales numbers, Gengler said sales have been increasing about 10 percent annually in the past few years.
“There’s a lot of competition for organic (food) that wasn’t there several years ago,” he added. But demand for organic food continues to grow, he said.
The strong work ethic of its employees is another reason why Sno Pac has continued to grow, Gengler said.
With increased production and sales, Sno Pac’s work force has continued to grow. The company has about 50 employees who work year-round, and another 10 or so who work during the busy season, which is from mid-June until the end of September.
The family’s business history in Caledonia goes back to 1919, when J.P. Gengler started a sawmill and home construction business. His son, Leonard Gengler, built a locker plant where townspeople and area farmers could rent freezer space to store their food.
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Leonard also bought a farm and started raising strawberries, goose berries and vegetables that he processed and froze at his freezer plant. He raised them organically, without chemicals. He started selling his products in 1943 on a truck route that included La Crosse; Winona, Minn.; Decorah and Lime Springs, Iowa, and towns in between.
Sno Pac products have been available throughout the Midwest since 1971. And today they’re sold all over the nation.
In 1972, Leonard’s son and daughter-in-law, Ray and Darlene Gengler, bought the business from him. Ray has since passed away and Darlene retired a few years ago.
Today, their son Pete is president, their son Nick is vice president and their daughter Joan DeWall is regional sales representative and data specialist. Nick’s sons, Zack and Seth, also work at Sno Pac.
Sno Pac outgrew its old offices and processing plant in Caledonia, and in 1997 moved to the current location in an industrial park.
“We farm about 3,000 acres ourselves,” Pete said, mostly leased land within 20 miles of Caledonia. Contract growers raise crops for Sno Pac on another 1,000 to 1,500 acres within about 60 miles of Caledonia.
Gengler estimated about 80 percent of what Sno Pac sells is raised in the area. It buys some items elsewhere, such as blueberries from Michigan.