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Co-packer, gourmet food business House of Webster celebrates 80 years

story by Kim Souza
ksouza@thecitywire.com

Tucked away in eastern Rogers near downtown, the House of Webster has quietly provided gourmet specialty food items since 1934. While its brands of jams, baking mixes found local favor, the company ships thousands of gift packages across the country each year, and also co-packs for other brands such as My Brothers Salsa, a local company and supplier to Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, House of Webster is stirring up its product mix, redesigning its website with plans to offer consumers online retail shopping, which is now handled out its quaint Country Store adjacent to the corporate office in Rogers.

There might even be a subscription service in the works for consumers who want to try new products each month, though the company is still formulating those plans.

EARLY ORIGINS/GIFTING
Founder Roy Webster began selling baked goods and homemade preserves while he delivered newspapers some 125 miles each day back in 1934. His baked items were such a hit with his customers, Webster purchased a bakery in 1939 in downtown Rogers to keep up with demand, according to Ryan Castrellon, marketing manager for House of Webster.

In a move to sell more products, the young company began offering gift packages of their jams and baking mixes to corporations around the holiday period. The first customer to sign on was Harvey Jones, founder of Jones Trucking in Springdale, around 1946.

Castrellon said gifting is still a big part of the company’s overall business model which generates revenue in three ways: Gifting sales, wholesale and co-packing, all of which account for about a third of the company’s overall profits. The rest of the firm’s corporate gifting sales is repeat business.

He said during the economic recession, gifting sales receded but in the past year they have returned to normal levels and are the fasting growing of the three income segments. The company is working on programs that will incorporate year-round gifting, which is now mostly timed around the Christmas holiday season.

CO-PACKING NICHE
Because gifting is largely a seasonal business, House of Webster looked for other ways to utilize its facility and workforce with private label wholesale and co-packing services.

Helen Lampkin of My Brother’s Salsa uses House of Webster as a co-packer for her line of gourmet salsa products sold in Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Fresh Market and numerous other retailers across the nation. 

Lampkin told The City Wire that she first began making the salsa in her kitchen with her own recipes, but as demand for the product grew she sought to outsource the production while keeping control of the product formulation. House of Webster fit that bill, and the local manufacturer had a reputation for quality brands of its own, which was important to Lampkin. My Brothers Salsa also uses another processor in Alma for some of its co-packing needs.

Castrellon said co-packing involves working with the brand owners to make the product to their specifications, using their recipes and labels. Product is then shipped out to the customer on a wholesale basis. He said the company continues to grow its co-packing sales thanks in part to the success of companies like My Brothers Salsa.

OPERATIONS 101
In 2006, House of Wester was sold to Griffin Foods, but it still maintains its own brands and continues to develop new products through its research and development team and chef who work in the 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Rogers.

“We are in the midst of expanding by adding a 2,400 square-foot freezer unit, which will allow for bigger orders of ingredients used in our products,” Castrellon said.

About 100 people work at the Rogers plant where they cook and package more than 100 products onsite under their own brand. But they also do a large volume of private label business for retailers on a wholesale basis. Private label contracts make up about half of the company’s wholesale business.

The one plant in Rogers can produce about 34,000 pint-size jars of food items each day from jelly, preserves, sauces, pickled vegetables, salad dressings, salsas and mustards. The best selling product today is apple butter, according to Castrellon. Annually, he said the plant turns out 6.7 million jars of product.

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WHAT’S NEXT
“We are excited to introduce several new products in the coming months starting in August with four new condiments. The mustards include Honey-Horseradish-Dijon, Jalapeno and Ozark Stout Ale. We also have a garlic, herb mayonnaise. These items debuted in the Fancy Foods show in New York and were very well received,” Castrellon said.

In January, he said the company will introduce four new pepper spreads that are infused with fruit flavors like strawberry, blueberry, raspberry and mandarin orange. The pepper spreads can be used as cooking sauces, marinade or eaten with bagels or breads.

He said the company will also unveil a custom label service on its website that will allow customers to order products with their own personalized labels which can be given as customer appreciation gifts or as tokens of appreciation at weddings or other festivities.

“We recently tested this application with two local businesses who said they got great positive feedback from their customers who liked the products. We do not plan to impose minimum orders on this feature and hope that individual consumers will use it,” Castrellon said.

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