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Business that helped grow Belgium turns 100 PDF Print E-mail
Feature
Written by CAROL POMEDAY   
Wednesday, 25 September 2013 19:22

Krier Preserving, the cannery founded by the son of Luxembourg immigrants that was long the economic backbone of the village, hits the century mark

    When Krier Preserving Co. was started in 1913 in Belgium, it became such an integral part of the fabric of northern Ozaukee County that almost every family was involved with the cannery in some way and many depended on it to feed their families.

    Farmers grew vegetables. Local children and adults along with migrant families picked beans, peas and other vegetables. Many women worked on the lines in the cannery, picking debris, including an occasional mouse, from the vegetables and inspecting and labeling cans as they came off the conveyer belt. Men weighed the produce and operated the large machines in the plant and later in the fields when they replaced hand-pickers.

    To mark the 100th anniversary of the company founded by his great-grandfather J.B. Krier, Bruce Krier, fourth-generation president of what is now Krier Foods Inc., has invited people to share their memories of the firm during an open house Thursday, Oct. 3.

    The party will be held from 3 to 8 p.m. at the Luxembourg American Cultural Museum in Belgium, where there will be displays of company memorabilia and photographs.

    The company no longer cans vegetables, but that’s a rich family legacy that should be remembered, said Krier, who presides over the company that today is a custom beverage processor for name-brand products.

    “It’s rare to have a company stay in business that long and even rarer to stay in one family, weathering all the ups and downs,” Krier said.

    He joined the company in 1977, when his father Ray was president, and spent much of his time in the office and working with customers.

    But he started by working in the fields. He remembers as a young man riding in a bus with migrant workers and three or four buddies to the spinach fields, where they used large knives to cut spinach growing on the corners of the fields. The harvest machines, which couldn’t cut corners, would finish the rest of the field.

    Krier also picked stones from the fields and planted trees for wind breaks that are still standing.

    Lake Church resident Joan Rosewitz Ansay, who grew up in Port Washington, said it wasn’t just Belgium children who went into the fields to pick peas and beans.

    “Fifteen to 20 of us kids would get picked up at the Columbia Tavern in Port Washington and taken to Belgium in an open truck,” said Ansay, who worked in the fields from ages 12 to 14. “We would be packed in the back, holding our bean pails and lunch pails.”

    She remembers getting paid 10 cents for a crate of spinach and one cent per pound for beans.

    “We didn’t get rich,” she said.

    Her husband Francis, who grew up on his family’s farm in the Town of Belgium,  also picked in the fields, then worked in the warehouse and at a former fox farm in Lake Church where German prisoners of war, who were housed in Little Kohler, picked peas. He weighed the pea boxes.             After the couple married, they grew onions and tomatoes in Lake Church for the cannery, harvesting the crops themselves and taking them to the plant. Beans, peas and other crops for cannery were grown on the Ansay family farm.

    Krier, who has been battling cancer for eight years, said he will soon pass the baton to the fifth generation — his nephew John Rassel, 31, who joined the company eight years ago and is now general manager.

    Rassel, the son of Bruce’s sister Debbie, handles day-to-day operations, Krier said, while he focuses on strategic planning and working with customers.

    The most difficult decision he made, Krier said, was selling the canning plants in Belgium and Random Lake to Lakeside Foods in 1988.

    “Emotionally, it was very difficult,” Krier said. “I felt like I was selling our family’s legacy. I also thought I was securing the future for the 27 years that followed by selling it to a committed company. It appears that has been a good strategy.”

    Krier Foods has grown, finding a niche market working with name-brand customers that want to try something new.

    “Our strong point is our customers, who come to us with something that’s a little different that large companies don’t want to deal with,” Krier said. “We’ll invest in new packaging and processing to meet their needs.”

    His ancestors, who came from Luxembourg, also embraced new technology, he said.

    Krier Preserving has its roots in the Belgium Cannery, which was founded in 1909 by J.B. Krier and brothers Peter L. and J.P. Pierron. Krier reportedly disagreed with his partners and sold his interest in 1912.

    He founded Krier Preserving Co. on Oct. 2, 1913, with $25,000 from investors.  Original stockholders included J.B.’s sons Mike and George, brothers-in-law J.M. and Nic Hubing, attorney William F. Schanen, banker F.J. Wittmeyer and investors Frank Pauly, Mike J. Hubing, Joseph Pirrung and Math Kartheiser. The cannery at 705 Main St. is now owned by Lakeside Foods, which continues the canning tradition.  

    J.B. and his sons were knowledgeable farmers who knew how to grow vegetables, resulting in a high-quality product, said historian Kevin Wester, executive director of the Luxembourg American Cultural Center.   

    When J.B. retired in 1916, he sold his shares to his sons Henry and Fred, and Mike became president.

    A second cannery plant was built in 1923 in Random Lake. A tornado severely damaged the plant on opening day and 20 workers narrowly escaped death, Wester said.  

    Mike died in 1934 and George became president. In 1942, George and his brothers purchased all the common stock and the company became solely family owned. In 1947, George and William sold their interests to Henry and his sons Jerome and Raymond.

    At the time, the Belgium plant operated two canning lines with the latest equipment   and was capable of producing 80,000 cases of vegetables per day.

    Cans of beans, beets, carrots, mixed vegetables, stew mix, peas, potatoes, kidney and lima beans and pork and beans moved along the conveyors. The products were marketed under the names “Krier’s Best,” “Belle of Belgium,” “Serve-U-Rite” and “Sunbonnet.”

    Krier Preserving expanded into beverage processing in 1959. When Ray became president in 1964, he built a new beverage plant in Random Lake and added the Jolly Good soda line in 1966.  

    In 1962, Krier Preserving purchased Wisconsin Foods’ fruit packaging division in Sturgeon Bay and began bottling juices  under Fruitland Fruit Juice and Chere-Fresh brands.

    The company name was changed to Krier Foods, Inc. in 1982.

    In 1986, Bruce became president after his father Ray died. Bruce brought the Sturgeon Bay operations to the Belgium and Random Lake plants.

    After selling the vegetable canning plants, Krier Foods continued to use a portion of the Random Lake plant to can carbonated and non-carbonated beverages.

    Krier Foods became one of the first beverage companies to put pasteurized juices into single-serve aluminum cans and later in single-serve plastic bottles. The Jolly Good line was quietly discontinued in 2007.

    Rassel said the company now bottles a variety of nonalcoholic beverages, including energy drinks, averaging 10 to 12 million cases a year.

    Reservations for the open house are requested by calling (262) 476-5086 or e-mailing This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 

Image Information: WITH STATE OF THE ART bottling capability, Bruce Krier, president of Krier Foods Inc. (left) , and his nephew John Rassel, general manager, are continuing the family business and tradition of quality and innovation at the Random Lake facility. The company was founded in 1913 by J.B. Krier (below). Above photo by Sam Arendt. Historic photo courtesy of Luxembourg American Cultural Society

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