Hirzel Canning tackles busy harvest seasonWritten by Duane Ramsey | | firstname.lastname@example.org
For many years, people have been consuming Dei Fratelli brand tomato products and Silver Fleece brand sauerkraut made from locally grown produce that is processed, packed and distributed by the Hirzel Canning Company and Farms based on Lemoyne Road in Northwood.
The company is in the midst of its busiest time of year: a tomato harvest that runs from mid-August into the third week of October.
“We’re packing from fresh tomatoes during the harvest season rather than using tomato paste and water for our products,” said Steve Hirzel, president and a fourth-generation member in the family-owned business.
“Timing the harvest with growers to meet the optimum production of tomatoes that go into different products is critical in order to provide consistent products for consumers based on crop and harvest schedules,” Hirzel said.
Picking tomatoes when they are ripe is the biggest challenge, so they use produce grown at farms close to their canning operations to assure freshness, he said.
Hirzel said the company contracts with about 30 tomato growers in Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan, all within a 50-mile radius of its headquarters and packing operations in Northwood. It also has canning and packing facilities in Pemberville and Ottawa.
The company conducts its own research and development of tomato plants that are preseeded and germinated in greenhouses until they are mature enough to be transplanted in the fields. The company ships the young plants to the growers for transplanting in order to control the quality of the tomatoes for its products, he said.
“We’re proud of our sophisticated growers for the consistent quality produce they grow to put in our products. They’re doing a phenomenal job of growing for us,” Hirzel said.
The products have a shelf life of more than two years, but consumers should look for the “best by date for optimal freshness and flavor,” he said. “We have a sophisticated tracking system of the tomatoes grown and used in our products for safety, so people can trust our products.”
A variety of 53 different Dei Fratelli tomato products and Silver Fleece sauerkraut are sold in retail stores, primarily in the Midwest but also stretching from Florida to the Rocky Mountains. The brands are sold in local stores, such as The Andersons, Churchill’s, Sautter’s and Kazmaier’s 5-Star Markets, as well as in national chains, including Kroger, Giant Eagle, Meijer and Wal-Mart.
“It’s worked well for business with our local brands supported by local stores and national chains. The local stores carry many of our unique products that aren’t available in the chain stores that usually carry a smaller selection,” Hirzel said.
“We don’t use additives, preservatives or add water to our products and emphasize the lower salt content to meet consumer and health demands,” he said. “Our tomato juice is made entirely from fresh tomatoes, not from concentrate and water.”
The company packs larger cans and plastic pouches of tomato products under the Star Cross brand for use in restaurants and the food service market. It also sells products in packages from 3-gallon bags to 55-gallon barrels for use as ingredients in other products in what it calls the industrial market.
Hirzel said the privately owned company does not release its sales figures but processes about 100 flatbed truckloads of tomatoes daily and 4,200 truckloads in a seasonal harvest. The company puts out approximately 100 million cans of product in one year.
The company employs about 120 full-time workers, which includes its farming operation. It uses an additional 350 workers during the peak harvest and production season, Hirzel said.
The family-owned business was founded in 1923 by Carl Hirzel on the site of its current headquarters. Today, nine members of the Hirzel family are involved in the business, said Steve, who took over leadership of the family business from his father, Karl Jr.
Steve’s great-grandfather Carl started selling sauerkraut from wooden barrels and passed the family business onto his grandfather, Karl Sr. Two uncles remain active in the company with Joe Hirzel Sr., serving as chairman, and Bill Hirzel, as secretary and resident scientist.
Dei Fratelli is hosting its third annual Ripened Recipe Contest in celebration of National Tomato Month in October. The brand encourages home chefs to get creative with one of nature’s healthiest fruits, using its canned tomato products.
“The Ripened Recipe Contest is one of the bright spots of the Dei Fratelli family business. Past entrants have wowed us with their creativity and passion for our products,” Steve said. “This contest is a dependable channel to interact with and better understand our consumers.”
Consumers can submit original recipes using any Dei Fratelli products. The top 10 recipes will be chosen based on flavor, appeal and originality, with each winner receiving a one-year supply of Dei Fratelli products.
Recipes can be submitted from Oct. 1 through Nov. 30 on its website at DeiFratelli.com, on Facebook or by mail with name, address and contact information to Dei Fratelli Ripened Recipe Contest, c/o RMD Advertising, 6116 Cleveland Ave., Columbus, OH 43231.
The winning recipes will be announced Dec. 15 and published on the Dei Fratelli website and Facebook page. The company has had several local winners in past years, Steve said.