Traverse City’s Shoreline Fruit recently inked a deal to put Northern Michigan Montmorency Cherries in the mouths of moviegoers across the country when they buy Nestlé’s new Cherry Raisinets. At the center of each of Nestlé’s Cherry Raisinets (a variation on the 85-year-old Nestlé theater candy counter staple hit) is a cherry, grown and dried by Traverse City’s Shoreline Fruit. Shoreline Fruit CEO Ken Swanson talks to us about the big cherry deal.
MyNorth: Shoreline Fruit is in our backyard, but we don’t know much about them. Introduce us.
Swanson: It’s a privately owned company—owned by the Gregory and Veliquette families. They keep 4,500 acres of cherries both in Michigan—up here and in the southwestern corner of the state—and in New York. They have two drying operations, one here, in Williamsburg, and one in New York. We employ 105 people in Williamsburg and 30 in New York.
MyNorth: But you’re not a member of either family—how did you get involved?
Swanson: I’m retired [laughs]. I’d worked in agriculture with a farm fi nancial consulting business all my life. My wife and I moved to Traverse City from Lansing, and I got involved as a consultant. I moved from interim CEO to CEO three years ago.
MyNorth: This deal is happening for Shoreline at a time when there isn’t much good business news in Michigan, what’s the scoop?
Swanson: Back in the fourth quarter of 2008, when the economy was starting to turn down, we made a business decision to beef up marketing and sales—to solicit new business. We actually hired three new positions. I had to sell it to the board, but they were very supportive. They’ve always been supportive of research and development.
MyNorth: So who is on the Shoreline Board?
Swanson: Two members from the Gregory family and two from the Veliquettes.
MyNorth: Nestle is the largest food company on the planet. How did Shoreline Fruit make the connection?
Swanson: Through Gerber in Fremont—they are owned by Nestlé. We learned that Nestlé was looking for a particular kindof dried tart cherry. They came to us with a need, and we figured it out.
MyNorth: Figured it out how?
Swanson: It’s a unique process. Special.
MyNorth: You can’t tell me what it is?
Swanson: No. [Laughs]
MyNorth: So, how big is this for Shoreline Fruit?
Swanson: Well, we’ll see. Our first shipment of dried cherries to the Nestlé plant in Burlington, Wisconsin, was 25,000 pounds. Between these and our other products our drying operations are nearing capacity.
MyNorth: You know the tune, Goobers, CHERRY Raisinets, Chocolate Covered Treats, CHERRY Raisinets and Goobers, Mighty fun to eat! Somehow the old advertising jingle isn’t quite the same when you add cherries to it. Do you see anissue here?
Swanson: You lost me there … I don’t know that jingle. [Laughs]
MyNorth: Oh-oh, I think you’d better go get yourself a box of Goobers. How about you name a good movie to watch with Cherry Raisinets?
Swanson: [Laughs.] I’m not going to be any fun here either, I’m not much into movies.
MyNorth: How about your wife—what movie do you think she’d pair Cherry Raisinets with?
Swanson: I think she’d say her favorite movie, Sound of Music.
Elizabeth Edwards is managing editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. This article first appeared in the July 2010 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Get the July issue or click here to subscribe.