The Big Dipper
Salsa Success at Garden Fresh Gourmet
(page 4 of 4)
Ask Jack Aronson about the next big thing for Garden Fresh Gourmet, and he points to a mammoth stainless-steel machine in one of his frigid Ferndale production buildings. It whirs and hisses as a conveyor slides salsa-packed plastic tubs inside, where water sloshes, then shoots.
This $3.5-million contraption is the latest in high-pressure processing (HPP).
Aronson says the process can extend the shelf life of refrigerated salsa by up to 100 days. In short, it’s a game-changer. In his own words, Aronson describes the logic behind buying the machine, and how it works.
“We want to keep stuff fresh and all-natural and give people the shelf life and the quality, and that’s why we invested [in it]. Six companies in the U.S. have these machines, and we’re the only privately owned company that has one.
“The plastic container has to have food in it and it has to be sealed. The machine puts 87,000 pounds of cold-water pressure on the outside of the container and it won’t crush it because it’s equal on all sides. [The] pressure is equal to seven oceans deep. If all the pressure were on top, it would flatten a submarine like a piece of paper. But because the pressure is equal on all sides, it’s pushing everywhere. It can’t blow out.
“It kills mold, yeast, bacteria, and every pathogen known to man. It does not affect enzymes and vitamins.
So [it] gives you the safest, all-natural fresh food to eat. It gives you the same results as heat pasteurization, but with cold water. And it doesn’t denigrate your product like heat pasteurization. If you make a spinach dip and you boil it at 180 degrees for 11 minutes, it’s not such a good spinach dip anymore.
When Jack Aronson isn’t tossing ingredients around the Garden Fresh Gourmet test kitchen or racing around the production floor, odds are he’s plotting new ways to support local charities.
“That’s a big reason I didn’t want to sell the company,” he says. “The No. 1 one reason was the employees and the second was charity work. That’s probably the most fulfilling thing.”
While Aronson and his wife, Annette, often write checks for worthy causes, such as cancer research at the University of Michigan Hospitals, they’ve demonstrated a terrific imagination for funding larger efforts by leveraging the popularity of their products. In early 2010, for example, they funneled $100,000 to the Salvation Army Bed & Bread Club by donating all the profits from a limited-edition salsa that honored then-retiring radio host Dick Purtan.
A similar strategy has been used to keep donations flowing to Children’s Hospital of Michigan, which also turned to the Aronsons a few years ago when they needed help with a big-ticket project. “I was giving money there … every month, off our sales from tortilla chips and Costco salsa,” Jack says. “We asked them what more we could do, and they said, ‘We’re the only top-10 children’s hospital in the United States that doesn’t have a healing garden, and research has shown that children heal faster and can get out of the hospital sooner if they can get outdoors.” The Aronsons found a way to make the $250,000 project happen. “It took us a couple years to pay for it,” Jack says.
Another favorite charity, the Boys and Girls Club of South Oakland County, receives a monthly portion of pita-chip profits and food donations.
The group is so grateful for the help that it actually found a way to give back to Garden Fresh, which no longer has enough space for a full managers’ meeting. “We took them on a tour of the building and they asked if they could have a meeting here,” says Sally Owen, the club’s vice president of development. “We put them in the teen room,” she adds with a laugh. “And so now they love to go to the teen room because on their breaks they’re playing pingpong and shooting pool.