Street Talk: Shelby fruit business makes Financial Times


A reader in Oceana County mentioned a couple of months ago that Chinese investors were rumored to be buying Peterson Farms in Shelby.

When Earl Peterson began farming with his father back in the early 1970s, they grew a lot of fruit. Today the business still includes orchards, but most of the focus of the family-owned and -operated business now is fruit processing. 

As noted on its website, Peterson Farms annually sells more than 150 million pounds of frozen fruit, plus 7 million gallons of apple juice and juice concentrates. With millions invested in frozen storage and processing facilities, it is the largest privately owned fruit processor in Michigan. Just last year, McDonald’s named Peterson Farms its 2012 U.S. Supplier of the Year, in honor of the Apple Dippers it provides.

Rumors abound in rural America, especially Oceana County, and Peterson doesn’t return calls to the news media, so we just went about our business.

April 18: The Financial Times in London reports “Peterson Farms up for sale via Quarton Partners.”

“Peterson Farms, the family-owned Shelby, Michigan-based fresh and frozen fruit processor, has put itself up for sale using Quarton Partners as a financial advisor,” stated the FT. The publication added that Peterson Farms was marketing itself on EBITDA of $66 million, on 2012 revenue of $210 million.

The information came from two unidentified sources who leaked it to, a news service for M&A professionals.

Quarton Partners is in Birmingham, Mich., and describes itself as an investment banking firm. Officials did not return a phone call.

So we went back to that guy who had mentioned the Chinese.

“It’s Hershey’s,” he said — the word was Hershey’s is buying Peterson.

Do you mean Nestlé? we replied.

Nestlé Nutrition, a division of the Swiss global foods conglomerate, already owns the Gerber brand and baby food plant in Fremont, which processes a lot of fruit raised in West Michigan.

Our volunteer reporter in Oceana County went off to check. It wasn’t long before he called back.

“Yep. It’s Nestlé,” he said. Of course he didn’t want to be identified because he admitted he was just repeating hearsay — but his source seemed reliable.

We contacted Nestlé Nutrition at its U.S. headquarters in New Jersey, and Wendy L. Johnson-Askew, vice president of corporate affairs, was kind enough to provide this answer via email:

“There are no current or pending considerations or activity regarding the purchase (of) Peterson Farms. However, as part of our ongoing efforts to maximize manufacturing efficiencies and operational improvements, we continue to evaluate potential opportunities.”

So there you have it. Or not.

Market share

Downtown Market’s brewery has yet to be announced, despite several announcements that it is coming. Perhaps with a full-service restaurant in the works already, the brewery might not happen.

Regardless, speculation that the brewery might be New Holland Brewing Co.’s Grand Rapids location can take a backseat as of now. An email to the Business Journal from New Holland said the brewery will look toward 2014 for the new venture.

The project originally was slated for 2013, but “has been postponed as we address site selection and other planning considerations.”

New Holland said it still is excited to expand a new business concept into Grand Rapids, but “as with any craft endeavor, you can’t rush it.”

However, waiting too long makes a poured beer go flat, so Downtown Market may be in the market for another vendor for its late summer indoor opening.

Oh, Kay

Cynthia Kay and Co. is known for its video work, but owner Cynthia Kay is going “old school” to get her message across. Yep, she’s now an author.

“Small Business for Big Thinkers: Unconventional Strategies to Connect With and Win Big Business” is scheduled for publication in September.

The 256-page tome includes sections on Michigan favorites Biggby Coffee, Butterball Farms and Herman Miller. There’s even a candid forward by Herman Miller President and CEO Brian Walker.

“Cynthia Kay’s creativity, drive and not-so-common competence has made a real contribution to me and to Herman Miller. … There are lots of books written about business — too many — without anything new to say. This is one I actually read and can heartily recommend.”

Kay knows of what she speaks. She is the former board chair of the Small Business Association of Michigan, current chair of the Small Business Association of Michigan PAC and a board member of the National Small Business Association. Kay said she took great pains to show “a small business is not just a scaled-down version of a big one. In fact, some of the strategies that work well for larger companies may actually be completely irrelevant for smaller firms.”

The book offers unconventional strategies to run a better small business. It also provides a roadmap for owners looking to expand their small businesses by doing more business with big business. Kay’s down-in-the-trenches stories, along with those from other small business CEOs and big business experts, are featured throughout.

Turn the page

If reading about business isn’t your bag (really?), here’s a good mystery with a delicious twist to spice things up.

Grand Rapids national bestselling author Peg Cochran realized a dream last week with the publication of her third mystery novel, “Steamed To Death.” It is the second in her Gourmet De-Lite mystery series published by Penguin imprint Berkley Prime Crime. 

Her first mystery, “Allergic To Death,” landed on the Barnes & Noble national bestseller list. For those who lean toward the racy side, Cochran also writes the Sweet Nothings Lingerie Mystery Series under the pen name Meg London.

Cochran said she wanted to be a writer since the age of 7, and she achieved her goal with the publication of her first book one month before her 60thbirthday. “It was hard to keep going after receiving over 400 agent rejections in a two-year period, but in publishing, persistence is the name of the game.”

That’s a rap

Students and teachers at Grand Rapids Union High School have no such longevity aspirations. They want to be one-hit wonders through a different medium: the Internet.

Algebra I teachers Bill Morris and Jon Tillema worked with David Dublis, the school’s instructional technology specialist, and Union students to create a video that is a parody of the Top 20 song “Thrift Shop,” but with an emphasis on learning math and improving grades. (Instead of lyrics like “I’m gonna pop some tags,” the Union version says, “I’m gonna up my grades.”)

The Union crew now wants to see the YouTube video go viral.

“This video embodies the remarkable talent we have in this district and the transformation that is happening at Union High School,” said Teresa Weatherall Neal, superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools. “It's this kind of teaching and student engagement that makes learning fun and exciting. Kids are drawn to this and want to be in the classroom with these teachers to learn from them. I am really impressed with this work. Union is making it happen and moving the numbers.”

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