Dairy Foods interviews Litehouse CEO Jim Frank
Litehouse CEO Frank talks to Dairy Foods about the challenges of heading an employee-owned business; achieving SQF Level 3 certification; and growth plans.
Litehouse Inc. President and CEO Jim Frank is the first nonfamily member to head the Idaho-based manufacturer of refrigerated salad dressings and blue-veined cheeses. The Hawkins family founded the company more than 50 years ago, and starting in 2006 the owners began selling shares to employees. By 2014, the conversion to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan ESOP was completed. Today, Litehouse is 100% owned by 700 employees in Idaho, Utah and Michigan.
Company revenue grew more than 10% in 2015 to $215 million, placing it at No. 79 on the Dairy 100, this magazine’s ranking of the largest dairy processors in North America.
In July Dairy Foods Editor-in-chief Jim Carper traveled to Sandpoint, Idaho, and sat down with Frank to talk about how Litehouse does business. They met in the company’s corporate headquarters, the former home of Coldwater Creek, a catalog and online specialty retailer of women’s apparel and home décor. Following is an edited transcript. Read the complete interview in the September 2016 digital edition of Dairy Foods.
Dairy Foods: Tell me about your guiding principles. They're faith-based.
Jim Frank: In 1958 or thereabouts, Ed Hawkins Senior created our chunky blue cheese dressing. [Up to then] there was only the vinaigrette type. As the story goes, he was working in a restaurant and his boss challenged him to find a better kind of dressing. He went home and prayed about. It.
So that's part of it. We're a faith-based organization and we're proud of that. We like that fact. Our company has room for all people, all diversity, and all walks of life. But that's the direction we choose as a company.
Dairy Foods: How does that influence the company and the way you do business?
Frank: There would always be this temptation to increase your sales or get some profits or do this or that that might borderline be in the integrity of how you do that. We always shy away from that. We'd rather maybe not have that sale or that profit if it doesn't feel right to us as individuals. We make the decision to go the other way.
Stewardship's about our communities. We're very active in our three communities in which we have plants. We support both through treasure and through volunteer hours. We feel that from that stewardship, taking care of our communities and taking care of the people that work here just creates a better life and a better community to live in for everyone.
Growth requires investment in plant, people
Dairy Foods: What are the challenges that you're facing as business leaders of this company?
Frank: It's growth. Our company is growing rapidly. We're doing a great job on the selling and marketing side in cheese, deli, produce, dressings throughout the nation. We're expanding our footprint. We used to be almost non-existent in the East. We've got great distribution out there now.
So our biggest challenge as a company is to support that growth and continue to grow and serve our customers without interruption. It's a challenge but we're on top of it.
Dairy Foods: What channels do you see as growth opportunities for you? Is it retail, or foodservice or as an ingredient?
Frank: The retail channel is always our primary focus. We really want to grow that channel. We want to grow the Litehouse brand. We got our sights set on deli. To really grow our deli business through our cheese. We just feel we make a great, great blue cheese, and we want to get that great experience into more people's mouths.
Another one that's growing leaps and bounds would be a little bit like a business to business for us. That's our value-added channel. We'll make products that go inside somebody else's product. Because of the quality of products we make, the innovation we have, and the services we provide, they really want to do business with Litehouse.
We do a lot of that in the deli department. It's called Behind the Glass, with different sauces and applications. So that's a big part of our plan.
Dairy Foods: What attracted you to Utah? Why did you site something there?