Trailblazer Foods’ President Rob Miller discusses business acumen, industry growth in Pacific Northwest
With all the branded products available in today’s grocery stores, what does it take for a private label manufacturing company to make it?
Staying on top of industry trends and understanding when to make progressive leaps has been a big part of success for Trailblazer Foods. When Rob Miller became president in 2000, he could see the company had the potential to gain significant ground in its business. Trailblazer Foods, a branded, private label manufacturing and co-packer company, is one of the largest producers in the Western United States. The company has been providing its customers with fruit-based products, jams, jellies, sauces, glazes and more since 1984. Its customers run the gamut, including Safeway, Wal-Mart, Kroger, Unified Western Grocers, Sam’s Club, Costco, ConAgra Foods, Sysco, Cash&Carry, and others. Rob has navigated the ups and downs of the food business through his 17-year tenure. Rob shared some insights with Schwabe’s Manufacturing, Distribution and Retail team on how he has shaped Trailblazer Foods’ growth and how the company has continued to be an industry leader.
Ten years ago, Trailblazer Foods didn’t offer any organic products, while organics now make up 70 percent of the pounds produced in their plant. In 2006, when organic products accounted for just 3 percent of retail food sales, the folks at Trailblazer Foods recognized this demand wasn’t going away anytime soon. They started rolling out organic products in 2008 and have since continued. In 2015 they launched an organic coconut product line, and in the summer of 2016 they introduced a new line of organic drinking vinegars, used as cocktail mixers and soda replacements. They still carry non-organic products to meet that demand. Trailblazer Foods is currently working on extending its line of coconut products, drinking vinegars and digestives, and expanding co-packing partnerships with small to mid-size companies.
Safety and compliance
Safety is top of mind for Rob, and he’s very eager to ensure the highest measure of precaution in all aspects of production. “We are morally and ethically obligated to do things right,” he said. “Each year we’re re-certified to maintain our Safe Quality Food Level 2 rating. U.S. food supply is the safest in the world, and we are thrilled to be doing our part.” Trailblazer Foods undergoes the formalized auditing process yearly to get re-certified.
Investing in the right people
Whether it’s partnering with an efficient law firm or making strong internal hiring choices, having the right team in place is invaluable. This is why Trailblazer Foods has worked to ensure all employees, from its research and development team to its semi-skilled labor workers, are committed to their roles. In terms of legal representation, Rob says you just can’t be good at everything. “Functional expertise is very important to us, so we need a firm that we can tell exactly what we’re looking for in a specific area. We need people who are good at what they do.”
Rob has helped Trailblazer Foods progress throughout the years by focusing on finding the right talent and honing strategic direction. He started running the business when he was 32, and attributes his leadership expertise to partaking in the Young Presidents Organization. “I learned so much from them, through the idea exchange,” he said. When it comes to what could affect the future of the business, this isn’t a focal point for him. “I can’t worry about it. From a business standpoint, I would argue for simplicity and stability.”
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