Furman Foods has found the right combination of quality, growth and customer satisfaction. Luke Cowles examines the food industry leader.
This year, Furman Foods will process 1.3 billion tomatoes to produce 7 million cases of tomato-based canned good products under the hands of 750 loyal employees. That’s not bad for a company that started with 30 jars of canned tomatoes on a stovetop in rural Pennsylvania, 81 years ago. Maybe that’s because the Furman Foods recipe for success includes ingredients like honesty, integrity and quality of service. The secret ingredient in the Furman formula, however, is the people.
“We sincerely believe that the accomplishments of our company are a direct reflection of the interests and abilities of our people,” says Dave Geise, president and CEO of Furman Foods. “We encourage them to participate and offer suggestions at every level of operation. We believe that buildings, money and machines do not create a company but are merely tools which people use in the operation of the company.”
A History of Growth
Those very words could have been spoken by J.W. Furman, grandfather of Dave Geise, back in 1921. The core business philosophy of Furman Foods has changed little in the last eight decades and the success of that philosophy shows most clearly in the company’s history.
In 1944, J.W. Furman sold his business to his two sons and two sons-in-law. Production at that time was at 60,000 cases and the firm had 15 employees. Foster Furman was elected president and sales manager. Since the time of Dave Geise’s election as president in 1977, production figures have grown at about two million cases per year. With the acquisition of the Williamsburg Canning Company in 1998, Furman’s has become the largest family-owned tomato processor on the East Coast, producing more than 7 million cases of canned goods each year. These goods are produced at the company’s main production facility, consisting of 509,000 square feet, in Northumberland, Pa. Furman’s best-known products are Furmano’s brand Italian tomato products and vegetable products.
Furman Foods also packs a number of private label brands that are sold under 1,500 different labels. The company works with leading food service customers to create custom-formulated products to meet their special needs.”Our volume has increased significantly and we feel that we have been truly blessed,” says Dave Geise. “We just like to pass that on,” he says, speaking of his 750 employees, who also share in the profits. For Furman Foods, it wouldn’t have been possible without them.
Quality of Service
“We enjoy a reputation for providing exceptional quality in the food processing industry,” says John Whitehead, group vice-president of marketing, sales, R&D and Q&A for Furman Foods. “That reputation is built on supplying our customers with great tasting, high quality products. Honesty in our relationships with our customers, employees and the community is our standard. I think that comes through in the quality of our products and ultimately in the success of the company.”
“In our company organizational chart we placed the consumer and our customers in the center of the chart, which implies that all functions in the company need to create value in the products and services we offer,” continues Whitehead. “In today’s world the consumer values convenience, variety in products, wholesome foods and great taste. We recently updated our brand position and redesigned our label to offer greater value to the consumer. Our brand position centers around great taste and our tag line ‘great taste is a family tradition’, relates to the
consumer enjoying a great tasting meal in their family environment. Our label was redesigned to show quick and easy wholesome recipes with a picture recipe and web site to obtain additional information. In addition, we have included an appetizing dish on the front of each label and a nutritional statement providing information on potential health benefits of the product.”
The customers that benefit from the Furman code of quality include supermarket chains, mass merchandisers, drugstores and retail grocery wholesalers. These establishments are all
serviced through the Furman Consumer Products Unit. Equally, the Furman Food Service Unit supplies restaurant chains, schools, food service distributors and manufacturing accounts. The company also exports its products to Latin America, Europe and the Middle East.
“The quality being offered to our customers also results from farms owned by Furman Foods, which enables a greater control of product quality and ongoing research and development,” explains Whitehead. “The company supplements the output of its own farms by contracting with farmers in the region who are willing to grow their crops to meet the standards set by Furman Foods.”The firm’s manufacturing philosophy is to integrate the use of cutting-edge technology with human workmanship. None of the Furman Foods processing lines operate without the human touch. In addition to providing quality products, Furman Foods implements the latest technology to improve efficiency and produce cost savings it can pass along to consumers.
Better Ingredients…Better Products
“Furman Foods believes that a food product is only as good as the Earth that it comes from,” says Jim Kohl, agricultural director. “That is why we have dedicated ourselves to maintaining highest quality soil, water and air in which our products are grown.” Furman Foods is working closely with a network of universities, including Penn State, Ohio State University, Rutgers, Cornell University, and Perdue, on an emerging Integrated Pest Management technique. Global Positioning Satellite signals are used to determine the growth and migration pattern of insects, diseases and even weeds. This allows Furman’s to perform ‘site-specific farming.’
“With this technique,” explains Kohl, “we pre-determine what insects and blights are coming our direction and start working to prevent them while they’re still several states away. It’s a kind of ‘prescription agriculture’ because it allows us to drastically reduce the amount of pesticides used on our products.”
Furman Foods also uses steam, a clean alternative energy, for the canning process. According to Kohl, “We reclaim water throughout our canning process to conserve as much of it as possible. We recycle solid waste that is a byproduct of our manufacturing. And, our vegetables are canned in 100% steel, which can be used over and over”. “We care about the world we
live in,” stresses Dave Geise, “and continually search for new technologies to make our operations even more compatible with the environment. It takes more than knowledge and
technology. It’s a total belief in good stewardship.”
The Furman mission will remain to be a leading supplier of tomato products in the Eastern United States through solid quality and business relationships. Special focus is being put on the introduction of new products, innovative packaging, servicing niche markets and of course, expansion. No matter how the company grows though, Dave Geise still sees that little family, huddled around a stovetop in rural Pennsylvania.
“Today, we’re still a family business,” Geise says. “Our decisions aren’t so much influenced by advertising and the stock market as they are by tradition. This business is a gift that we want to pass on to the next generation. We like to say that God is the Chairman of the Board and the family makes up the members. With a guiding team like that, we’re expecting even more success.”