Marron Foods: Making Your Food Taste Better

Winter 2010 - If you’ve ever been on a liquid shake diet there’s an excellent chance some of the ingredients in those shakes originated at the Marron Foods factory in Durand, a small town in western Wisconsin. For more than three decades, Marron Foods has been producing customized pure ingredients that revolutionize the products of the world's leading food manufacturing companies, therein helping those products perform at the highest level of their categories.

Matthew Pearson, owner and current president, recognized a need for innovation in the industry in the late '70s, and at the age of 29 started Marron Foods with a partner. Matthew has come a long way to be where he is today, but not without a struggle. He initially operated the company out of a former Lipton Cup-A-Soup plant in upstate New York, making products used in everything from beverage, soup and baking products to nutritional supplements. Marron Foods was quickly renowned as a food science pioneer.

“We created a new kind of low-fat milk powder and I was running around all over the country trying to sell it,” reveals Pearson. “The U.S. military was our first client, which helped us get off the ground, and eventually through some networking I met the owner of Slim-Fast. He tossed me a can of Slim-Fast and asked me if we had capacity to produce it and meet his volume requirements. In the late ’80s we were one of their leading suppliers.”

Changing Addresses, Same Dedication to Quality

The company continued to innovate, recruiting leading scientists to assure the processing of products that meet or exceed industry standards. After encountering operational difficulties with the New York plant, Pearson decided to relocate the firm to a co-op in Minnesota and eventually to a co-packer in Wisconsin. “We loaded up all of our equipment on semi-trucks and drove it over to Minnesota and operated under a joint-venture there. We also saw the need to diversify, so we expanded into protein powders,” notes Pearson. “When protein bars first came out in the '90s, they were awful, dry and tasteless. We worked to create an instant protein that was more consumer-friendly.” Pearson, along with Michael Thomas, Marron’s national sales manager, did the initial R&D and instant protein production support for leading domestic and international manufacturers. Recently Dan Pearson, Matt’s son, introduced “Your Whey,” Marron’s retail brand of the highest quality lowest cost whey protein. It enables all health conscious consumers to economically fortify the foods they love with easily dispersible, flavorless nutritious protein. Due to the company’s burgeoning success, Marron Foods soon outgrew its outsourced facilities and Pearson was forced to move the firm a fourth time. He found a vacant milk-converting plant in western Wisconsin and purchased it from the Safeway Corporation. The fourth time was the charm for Pearson, and Marron Foods found its home.

The company has further reinforced its position as a cutting-edge producer of customized food and food service ingredients through its development of proprietary manufacturing equipment and custom products. It’s research capabilities in Georgia, directed by William K. Valentine, add to Marron Foods' ability to custom-blend instant proteins, maltodextrins and starches, stabilizers, and other formulated products with revolutionary flavor profiles. These are available to ship in a range of industrial and retail packaging options. Some of Marron Foods' proprietary innovations have included FloRite, an anti-sticking powder for high moisture baked goods, and RediSperse, which aids the dispersion and suspension of calcium citrate in fortified juices. The company produces most of its product for private label clients, but is about to diversify again with the re-launch of a nationally known brand.

Re-launching Brands, Reinforcing the Future

“We are very excited about our upcoming re-launch of Milkman low-fat milk powder,” says Pearson. “The brand was created shortly after WWII, and it’s different because it’s better. The powder is shelf-stable and contains a kiss of cream for flavor enhancement. Once liquefied, it has a richer flavor and texture than skim milk. It has a great customer base throughout the country and we’re going to reestablish that base and expand it in the market.”

Marron Foods simply will not compromise until achieving a products' full potential. This need has meant cross-training employees in multiple disciplines in order to passionately tackle whatever challenges customers pose, whether the objective is greater manufacturing efficiencies, enhanced mouth feel, faster dispersion or customized formulations. A result of this dedication is that Marron Foods is one of Durand’s largest employers. Pearson received the key to the city from the mayor due to the company’s valued presence.

In 2008, Pearson and Marron Foods’ ability to adapt and grow through innovation was highlighted in an article by Corporate Report Wisconsin, which included the company in the Small Business Success Stories Awards. Pearson attributes the firm’s long-term success, in spite of the many upheavals that he has worked through, to its employees, explaining, “We have been successful because of our expertise, problem-solving experience, and our extremely dedicated employees. We’re all in this together — everyone’s heart is in the right place and in the best interests of the company. The challenge is balancing the personalities to harmonize — the fun evolves from celebrating achievement and successes.”

Unlike some employers, Pearson doesn’t just pay lip service to the efforts of his staff. Marron Foods has an extremely low turnover ratio because it’s a workplace that treats everyone more like extended family. Pearson estimates that on average his employees have worked with Marron Foods for 15 to 18 years.

With a company firmly rooted in its community and always adding to its diversified product offerings, Pearson is optimistic about the future of the firm. “We’re in a good space now, but it’s important to stay focused and maintain profitability while preparing for the inevitable change in life and business cycles,” he says. “One of my sons joined the firm a couple of years back, and I’m really excited about where we’re headed.”

Under Matthew Pearson’s effective leadership, Marron Foods has been successfully guided through decades of economic uncertainty and four homes to become the industry leader that it is today.