Shearer's Foods grows with recent acquisitions

Published: Monday, October 13, 2014

By Marcia Pledger, The Plain Dealer   


MASSILLON, Ohio - Shearer's Foods was making 230 million pounds of potato chips when it was still a family owned business just two years ago. Now with an infusion in capital from new owners, the snack maker is on a growth spurt.

Since April, the Massillon-based company, owned by senior management and two private equity investors, has nearly doubled in size to about 3,300 employees. The company recently purchased two similar businesses in other states. Now aside from the two factories in Ohio, the company has six other manufacturing facilities.

Shearer's has about 100 job openings in Ohio alone, for packaging, processing and warehousing.

Christopher J. Fraleigh, Shearer's chief executive officer, said he partnered with the private equity firms because of Shearer's reputation, systems, and a state-of-the art green food processing plant built in 2010. That plant is in the midst of a fourth expansion with an $110 million investment.

While most people think of Shearer's as a regional potato chip maker, less commonly known is that 94 percent of the company's revenues come from contract work for national brands: co-manufactured products or branded snacks for restaurants and some of the nation's largest retailers.

Part of Shearer's growth in the last two years has been internally, stemming from a more aggressive sales approach with other manufacturers and retailers.

"Our business plan is not dependent upon acquisitions. Our primary focus is on making great products and satisfying our current customers," said Fraleigh, former chief executive for Sara Lee Corp.'s North American business.

Before taking over at Shearer's, Fraleigh helped build a retail and food-services business around brands including Jimmy Dean sausages, Ball Park hot dogs and frozen cakes.

Now Fraleigh's new world involves leading a company that makes a line of salty chips, kettle chips, corn tortilla chips, multigrain chips, cheese curls, pretzels and rice tortilla chips. "We are the largest producer of salty snacks and the second largest for cookies and crackers," he said.

A bold banner at Shearer's lays claim to be the world's first snack food plant to earn a platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

Nothing goes to waste at the 110,000 square-foot plant filled with skylights and other energy-saving systems. Heat from ovens is captured and reused to heat water for the building. Rainwater is harvested. Chips that don't meet company standards are crushed and turned into animal feed. And starch from potatoes is sold to other companies.

"Ninety-four percent of what we make has someone else's brand on it," Fraleigh said. "We have to be better at manufacturing to thrive the way Shearer's has for the past four decades."

Fraleigh also had this to say:

Biggest challenge: 

Our growth has given us the great opportunity to hire more associates. We believe we have the best team in the business. We have risen to the big challenge of hiring so many people and keeping our top standards.

How have you reinvented in the last five years? 

We have taken the core of Shearer's, that has existed for decades, and applied it to more customers and more plants with great success. We've taken our industry leading quality and improved it further. We've taken what was already a very good approach to innovation and accelerated it.

What keeps you passionate about manufacturing? 

There's something extremely satisfying about combining people and raw materials and turning it into something that millions of people enjoy everyday. That's fun. Manufacturing is what we do. Our expertise in manufacturing is why customers work with us and it provides a great opportunity for our 3,300 associates.