On the outside of every bag of Fromm Family Foods it says, “A Tradition of Quiet Innovation Since 1904.”
From raising foxes and creating vaccines for cats and dogs, to their original meal creation, over 50 years ago, Fromm has a long history of innovation that continues through five generations.
“We recognize opportunities, work hard to understand possible options and utilize resources that we have to complete the project,” Tom Nieman, owner of Fromm Family Foods, said. “You have a vision of what the opportunity is and then specifically define what you are trying to accomplish, the need you’re trying to fill and a way to communicate it.
“We have been innovators but we tend to work hard and roll up our sleeves to get things done; Fromm is not a mass produced, mass market product. The people we care about, as far as our product, know who we are. Hence we go through the independent retailers and that’s our way of communicating with the market place. We feel our customers will go to those types of outlets and buy those types of products.”
The company started in 1904 when Edward, John, Henry and Herb Fromm started the company on their family farm in Hamburg, Wis. The teenage brothers started growing ginseng on a quarter acre their father, Fredrick, allowed them to use. Then, their sister Erna Fromm married Edwin J. Nieman, Sr. Later on, in the 1920s Edwin J. Nieman, Sr. and Fromm Brothers Inc. formed Fromm Bros. Nieman Company, which is now known today as Fromm Family Foods.
In 1949, the first bag of Fromm Meal was sold. In the ‘70s Fromm ventured into lifestyle specific recipes with recipes like “Hi Stress” food for working dogs. In 1984, Tom Nieman returned to Wisconsin and took the reins of the family business from Edwin J. Nieman, Sr. after graduating with a chemical engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and gaining professional experience at a Minnesota-based company. After years of innovation and coming out with different types of food, such as Fromm Gold Nutritionals, Fromm came out with the Four-Star Nutritionals, which was released in 2003.
“In a lot of companies, people make decisions on an annual, quarterly basis, or sometimes a daily basis, in terms of what they think the opportunity is in terms of the valuation of a company,” Tom Nieman said. “So their planning process is much shorter, because of the market place will define the company’s value in the short term. The investment bankers have now jumped into it and their investment horizon is typically anywhere from three to five years. So they will flip it and get in and out. Our timeframe is more generational. From my grandfather, to father, to myself to my sons, we tend to make much more long term decisions and strategic planning based on a generational timeline.”
Fromm Generation to Generation
Bryan and Dan Nieman are the fifth generation in the family business as they prepare to take the reins of the company.
“It’s a lot to live up to but it’s very valuable and rewarding learning each aspect of the business,” Bryan Nieman, brand director of Fromm Family Foods, said. “To my father’s credit, we have been going through a rigorous training process, learning every aspect of the business from the delivery of raw ingredients, understanding the manufacturing process and ultimately delivering the product to the store shelf.”
Dan Nieman said it certainly can be a lot of pressure, for a company that has been so successful for so long, but at the same time it’s a great opportunity.
“In general, one of the reasons we have been around for so long is due to a long-term focus,” the assistant operations manager for Fromm Family Foods said. “We are obviously not out to make a quick buck and get out. We are in it for the long term, so down the line my brother and I are going to be able to shape the business, based on the market and consumer needs all the while maintaining our company and family values; a commitment to producing quality products and selling them through independent retailers. It’s really exciting and we understand it is a unique opportunity.”
Bark Avenue Pet Supply is an independent, privately owned company in Mesa, Ariz., that opened in 2005. It is a company that is very particular when it comes to what foods they allow to be sold in their store.
“We started working with Fromm mid-year in 2010,” Nancy Stewart, manager and buyer of Bark Avenue Pet Supply, said. “We brought Fromm in based on a request from a customer that was familiar with the line and wanted to know if we could get it. It wasn’t a line we were familiar with, though I have friends in the dog community in the Mid-west that have sold Fromm for years, so I have heard of it but didn’t know anything about it.
“We brought it in at that point and we just kind of laugh with Fromm that we started out with three bags on the shelf. So it started very, very small and then customers would see it and would ask if we could get such and such formula. So we would bring it in and it started to grow and it currently has 20 feet of space, one wall of our store, and we are going to need to expand again. It has become a very, very dynamic brand for us.”
According to Stewart, there are a lot of things they like about Fromm, some of which include that they are a private company and that they are as particular about their retailers, as Stewart is about what foods she brings into the store.
“So it’s not a brand that is going to be cheapened out there on the market place,” Stewart said. “We also like the fact that their quality is extremely consistent. We don’t get bad bags with Fromm. We don’t get kibble changing colors, we also like the fact that they believe, as we do, that it is important to sample your product and make sure you have the right product for the right pet.
“We do a heavily sampling program with them and we found that with them in the vast majority of cases when we send people with two or three different brands to try with their dogs, Fromm wins with the taste test. Customers select Fromm, their pets select Fromm and we choose to do business with Fromm.”
Celebrating 110 Years
At the 2014 Global Pet Expo, Fromm Family Foods will have a lot of different announcements for current and future clients.
“We are launching a couple of new products, we are having a hospitality suite for two out of the three days of the show, where our customers and associates can come unwind and learn about Fromm,” Bryan Nieman said. “We will unveil a new documentary style film that’s part of our new website, which we will also launch at Global.
“We will also be launching a very useful tool for our inside sales, retailers and distributor partners. It’s actually a web application, but it will allow us to more closely communicate with each individual retail store.”
Tom Nieman said the success of Fromm is based on the success of the independent retailer channel.
“We need to bring new innovative products to them and ways they can communicate what they offer in terms of knowledge and products to their potential customer base. We are very interested in their success and we try to allocate resources to them to have that kind of success.”
One of the new features Fromm Family Foods will have is to help retailers online.
“One of the tools we are excited about is we will be able to have a rep go into a store with a tablet, sit down with a storeowner and help them market Fromm foods,” Bryan Nieman said. “Our rep can spend about 20 minutes and they can figure out a description for their store, identify what they carry, even take down what hours they are open and by the time that rep leaves that store, that store can have a Fromm webpage, it will be a sub webpage of our overall Fromm website, can be marketed to consumers in their local area. So we are helping to build our independent retailer’s customer base through these new types of tools that are available to us.”
One thing both Bryan and Dan stress to people is that they are committed to the independent channel.
“It’s not something new to us, 110 years strong now,” Bryan Nieman said. “My brother and I will both be at Global meeting new customers and existing customers just trying to drive that message home, that we are there as a partnership.”