COOKING UP DEALS

How two black food companies whipped up lucative partnerships with a major firm

When it comes to forming corporate relationships, Michele Hoskins, founder and president of Michele Foods Inc., believes that it’s the smaller company that must knock-repeatedly and, if necessary, loudly-on the larger company’s door.

William F. Williams, co-founder and president of Glory Foods Inc., believes that such relationships come about because the larger company sees that an alliance with a smaller one can be beneficial to both parties, and it’s often the larger company that initiates the contact.

However such partnerships are formed, both companies can boast of a relationship with General Mills, the multibillion-dollar Minneapolis-based food Goliath whose products are as ubiquitous as neighborhood grocery stores.

Its relationship with Calumet City, Illinois-based Michele Foods involves a 13-city promotional tour that links General Mills’ Bisquick biscuit and pancake mix with Michele Foods’ syrups. The partnership is expected to increase Michele Foods’ sales by half a million dollars, says Hoskins. The association between Glory Foods, of Columbus, Ohio, and the consumer food products company is a bit more complex, but no less rewarding. With the help of a third party, Stairstep Initiative, a Minneapolis organization that works to build community among African Americans, Glory Foods was able to enter the highly competitive frozen foods market, expanding its established line of canned, preseasoned,Southern-style vegetables. The alliance resulted in the formation of Siyeza Inc. (South African for “We’re coming”), the manufacturing company of Glory’s frozen foods, which is expected to generate $12 million in sales this year, says Alfred Babington-Johnson, president and CEO of the Stairstep Initiative Companies and chairman of the board of Siyeza.

“The Michele Foods-General Mills association is the start of a trend,” says Gary M. Giblen, managing director and consumer and retailing analyst at First Albany Equities in New York. “Such deals will accelerate because consumer marketing has become more fragmented. Thirty years ago, you could do one mass-market campaign. Now there’s a lot more regional marketing and a lot more tailored marketing to different segments, such as African Americans.”

Two-product, or cross-branding promotional campaigns are not unusual in the food industry. That such campaigns are beneficial to both companies is evident in the Michele Foods-General Mills association. “For Michele Foods it makes perfect sense,” says John Renwick, a food analyst at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter in New York. “It puts the company on the map. Bisquick is a product people know very well. They might not know Michele’s syrup very well, but this puts her in the face of the consumer.” The idea is to create some excitement in the supermarket to get consumers’ attention, Renwick adds.

Small business owners like Williams and Hoskins seeking to form partnerships with major corporations must network, develop strong business and marketing plans and have plenty of persistence to land such deals.

A PLAN OF ACTION

Hoskins’ road to the alliance with the food giant is marked with the same tenacity and courage that has characterized her rise in the business world. In 1984, Hoskins, a divorced mother of three, sold her car and condo and moved in with her

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