The Land O’Frost Story
as told by President & CEO David Van Eekeren
Land O’Frost is a third generation, family-owned business, started by my grandfather, Antoon Van Eekeren, in 1941. Antoon was an immigrant from Holland, who came to the United States with dreams of success, much like many other immigrants. He realized the growing wartime demand for freezer storage and purchased a building on the south side of Chicago to house people’s frozen meats. He was a visionary who looked at the needs of consumers and acted on them. In 1952, he expanded by producing frozen meat pies, TV dinners and wafer-sliced beef. The products were sold under the Land O’Frost name, and the company became incorporated six years later.
After my grandfather retired in 1966, my father Paul Van Eekeren and his brother Henry became the leaders of the company. They shared Antoon’s vision and continued to grow Land O’Frost, with innovation and the customers’ needs as priorities. With significant growth, Land O’Frost opened its first lunch meat manufacturing plant in Lansing, IL in 1969. My father, with the help of an incredible team, personally designed new manufacturing machines, making production less labor intensive, reducing cost and above all, improving food safety.
In 1975, Land O’Frost purchased a Birds Eye® vegetable processing plant in Searcy, AR. By 1978, we were producing 35 million pounds of product a year and were estimated to be the largest producer of wafer-sliced products in the U.S. In 1981, we became a pioneer of the newly approved USDA retort pouch, a form of soft packaging that functions as a can but allows product to be packaged in flexible pouches and plastic trays. We used this technology to produce C-rations for the military and meals for the weight loss industry. As our lunch meat business grew, we exited that business and rehabbed the Lansing plant to meet that demand.
We acquired Leo’s, a California based company, in 1981 that brought to Land O’Frost a diverse product line including the one-pound package and food service sales. This inspired our One Pound Premium Product line, which also featured the re-sealable zip pouch. Today, I am extremely proud to say, the Premium Brand is the best-selling product in its segment in the country and is tagged “America’s Favorite” as a result of its top-selling status and huge consumer following.
The entrepreneurial spirit that has grown the Land O’Frost brand has extended to our emphasis on food safety and people safety. Staying ahead of the curve in these areas is an important part of our culture.
In 2001, when my father Paul died, my mother, Donna, assumed the role of CEO. It was at that time we began to shift our focus to the full lives of our consumers. We are a family business, and we consider our customers a part of our extended family. In 2003, we established the Land O’Frost Youth Sports Initiative. Every year, we sponsor more than 11,000 youth sports teams nationwide. Our customers are important to us, and giving back to their communities by sponsoring youth sports teams has been one of our proudest accomplishments. We are incredibly honored to see children across the country proudly wear Land O’Frost jerseys.
As a result of our increased focus on brand growth, our sales increased to the point that we added to our capacity by opening a state-of-the-art processing facility in Madisonville, KY in 2007. This 190,000-square-foot plant represents the most modern processing and food safety technology that the industry has to offer. New technology and capacity open up tremendous growth potential for the future, while maintaining the Land O’Frost gold-standard customer service and delivery record with our retail community.
In 2008, we celebrated our 50th anniversary. That was a very proud year for our family. What was once just a small regional branded company with a few employees has grown into a national brand with more than 1,000 employees at three locations. It was an incredible year for my family and the entire Land O’Frost family. We share the success with all of our employees, many of whom have worked with my father and have been with us for more than 25 years. Without them, we would never be where we are today.
In October 2011, we announced a partnership with Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). JDRF is the leading global organization focused on type 1 diabetes (T1D) research. JDRF’s research mission is to discover, develop and deliver advances that cure, better treat and prevent T1D. It has been an honor to support JDRF and an even bigger honor to watch our employees help raise money on their own time to help to find a cure for T1D. This organization also is personally important to me as my son has T1D.
In January 2012, we welcomed Wimmer’s Meats, a leading provider of specialty sausages and hot dogs, into the Land O’Frost family. As our first major acquisition, Wimmer’s Meats parallels our rich family heritage as a family-owned and operated multigenerational business. Some of the products you will find in the Wimmer’s Meat family are Basset’s®, Fairbury® and Ambassador® hot dogs and sausages.
Today, with my mother Donna as the Chairman of the Board, I strive to keep the values with which my grandfather and father started this business and will continue to grow Land O’Frost by fostering the entrepreneurial spirit they instilled in me.