COOKING UP DEALS

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

company’s bottom line. “I’m seeing results because I’m able to use the leverage of General Mills,” she says. “My sales are up and I’m very excited about it. It’s giving me a strength that I never had. When I call a buyer, and say ‘I would like to introduce my product to you and I would like for you to consider putting it in your retail chain,’ and then add that I’m doing a promotion for General Mills, the buyer’s attitude becomes, ‘If your syrup is good enough for Bisquick, it should be good enough for us to consider.’”

Autumn Boos, General Mills’ director of ethnic marketing, calls the relationship groundbreaking. “We’re very excited about the potential of what this partnership can bring both for Michele’s business and for the Bisquick pancake opportunity,” says Boos.

WHEN OPPORTUNITY COMES KNOCKING
Although Williams’ relationship is not as direct as the Michele Foods’ alliance, it has proven to be just as financially rewarding.

Williams and two partners launched Glory Foods in 1992 after three years of developing a product line that today includes 22 varieties of canned, Southern-style vegetables and condiments. The company’s products, which generated $12 million in sales last year, can be found in 8,000 stores in 29 states. BLACK ENTERPRISE selected Glory Foods as “Emerging Company of the Year” for 1996.

The company’s frozen products, Glory Foods Southern Sel
ections, a line of oven-ready and microwaveable frozen entrees and side dishes geared to consumers looking to save time and money, which were introduced in January 1998, are the result of a chance encounter. Although Williams had signed a contract to produce frozen greens for Churchs Chicken, the fast-food chain, entering the frozen foods market was not part of Glory Foods’ future.

“I had no interest in going into that arena,” says Williams, citing its entrenched competitiveness. “There are rules. You don’t go treading on Mr. Bubba’s [your competitor's] property,” he adds, laughing.

But in 1996, Williams received a call from Babington-Johnson of the Stairstep Initiative. Working with Michael “Ted” Cushmore, General Mills senior vice president and president of Gold Medal, now retired, Stairstep opened the door to Sanger’s office.

General Mills, which has a program devoted, in part, to social investing, had been in discussions with the owner of a packing plant in North Minneapolis. The owner was looking for investors but his company’s largest client withdrew its business. Efforts to salvage the company failed, leaving behind an idle, 65,000 square-foot facility.

That failure didn’t undermine the food maker’s belief that something viable could develop using the factory. After meeting with Sanger, Babington-Johnson secured a letter of intent for $1.5 million from General Mills.

Shortly after conclud-ing that phase of the deal, Babington-Johnson visited his mother in Knoxville, Tennessee, where he had the opportunity to sample Glory Foods’ collard greens. He couldn’t believe they had come from a can. When he returned to Minneapolis, he contacted Williams.

Although the two men discovered they had a lot in common, Williams had some initial misgivings about getting involved. He didn’t know how well

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