8 Companies Play Growing Role in Northern Michigan Economy

Materne USA

France-based Materne company was already more than 100 years old when, in 1998, it launched a product in Europe called Pom’Potes, re-sealable, individual-sized pouches of organic applesauce. Turned out people loved Pom’Potes, and a decade later the company was looking to expand and tap into the U.S. market with the same product but under the North America-friendly name GoGo squeeZ. As a home for the U.S. production facility, Materne chose a beautiful place in mid-America set amid one of the premier apple and fruit growing regions in the nation: near Traverse City, in Northwest Lower Michigan. Materne paired up with fruit processor Cherry Growers, Inc. to smooth the U.S. entry and set up production lines at the company’s plant.

In January 2011, Jack Bebernes, human resources director, became Materne’s first U.S. onsite employee in Traverse City, and he quickly set about hiring people. GoGo squeeZ found rapid acceptance in North America- it’s sold at Target, Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, Walgreens and grocery stores all across the continent- and the company already employs 125 people at the site, operating four production lines. Bebernes expects the plant to build four more production lines by the end of 2013, and be fully staffed at about 180 people. (The general manager is the only French national working at the plant.) The production lines make extensive use of robotics and computerized processing, so the skill sets of new hires are not always typical for the food processing industry. “But we can train people, and what we really need are motivated individuals,” he says.

Kelly Merrifield, Operations Associate (Hired: January 2013)

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