Gold'n Plump Poultry History

P.O. Box 1106
St. Cloud, Minnesota 56312-1106

Telephone: (320) 251-3570
Toll Free: 800-892-8569
Fax: (320) 240-6250

Private Company
Incorporated: 1926 as St. Cloud Hatchery
Employees: 1,600
Sales: $200 million (2002 est.)
NAIC: 311615 Poultry Processing

Company Perspectives:

Gold'n Plump is the largest integrated chicken producer in the upper Midwest, providing premium, innovative products and meal solutions to meet the ever-changing needs of today's consumers. The company's high-quality, nutritious chicken products are distributed domestically to grocery stores, delis and restaurants throughout the U.S., and exported internationally.

Key Dates:

St. Cloud Hatchery incorporates under the leadership of E.M. Helgeson.
E.M. Helgeson renames the company Jack Frost Farm Foods and sells day-old chicks through direct-mail catalogs.
Liberty Loan and Thrift Corporation is launched as a subsidiary to aid Depression-era customers.
Don Helgeson takes over as CEO.
Don and Jerry Helgeson buy Jack Frost; the company raises chickens for Armour Meat Company.
Jack Frost opens a new hatchery on Lincoln Avenue in St. Cloud.
Jack Frost is renamed Gold'n Plump Poultry.
Gold'n Plump acquires an Armour processing plant in Cold Spring, Minnesota.
Gold'n Plump acquires the Arcadia Fryers production facility; Michael Helgeson is named CEO.
A fire in the Cold Spring plant destroys part of the building.
Gold'n Plump begins packaging chicken by fixed weight.
Cold Spring plant celebrates its 20th anniversary.

Company History:

Gold'n Plump Poultry is the largest chicken producer in the upper midwestern United States. The privately held company operates three production facilities and processes more than seven million pounds of chicken per week. With more than $200 million in sales, Gold'n Plump distributes a vast array of chicken products, including fresh tray-packed meat to fully seasoned and cooked entrees. The company markets its chicken through grocery stores, delis, and restaurants in 23 states and has expanded its operations to several international markets including the Far East. Since 1982 Gold'n Plump's sales have risen tenfold.

The 1920s: Farming in the City

It was a different era when E. M. Helgeson and an early partner opened the St. Cloud Hatchery in a St. Cloud, Minnesota livery stable. The original company storefront stood on Seventh Avenue South in the heart of downtown. Hatching fuzzy, golden, day-old chicks in the center of a small city and selling them with the aid of direct-mail catalogs was an inventive approach in 1926. At the time most chicks were hatched on family farms the old-fashioned way, with brood hens hatching chicks at irregular intervals. St. Cloud Hatchery had incubators in the basement and second floors of its St. Cloud building and hatched vast numbers of chicks that were then ordered by customers directly or through the pages of the Sears catalog.

Cartonloads of chicks were delivered by the U.S. mail throughout the region. The developing company had found its niche and had proved that innovation and new technology could help revolutionize family farming. The partnership component of the venture was short-lived; shortly after the venture was formed, Helgeson's business partner quit in order to start his own hatchery. Helgeson was thus left with his own resources to brave the Great Depression and its economic challenges.

As with most businesses, staying afloat during the Depression was a challenging ordeal. In order to help customers finance their purchases, Helgeson made independent financing available. When his financing business flourished he officially began what was to become one of the most successful area loan companies. Liberty Loan and Thrift Corporation became the hatchery's first wholly owned subsidiary in 1934.

In the early 1930s Helgeson decided to rename his enterprise. He paid an associate $25 to come up with a name that would convey the health and hardiness of his mail-order chicks. With that image in mind the company took on the name Jack Frost.

Demand for Jack Frost chicks reached record levels during World War II. The war effort took an abundance of resources and many families, even urban ones, began to raise their own food. Chicks were in demand. When the war ended the company began to experience its first real downturn. The loan company became Helgeson's greatest asset. In the postwar period the baby boom was underway. Homebuilding and converting the economy to peacetime became a national priority. Liberty Loan and Thrift soon became Liberty Savings Bank and provided full-service banking to the St. Cloud region. The bank provided the necessary capital and financial services to jumpstart the transition to a peacetime market. Helgeson's son Don recalled the demise of the hatchery in the postwar years in a St. Cloud Times article: "Demand soared during World War II and plummeted afterward; the hatchery played second fiddle to Liberty Loan." Don Helgeson remembers talking his father out of liquidation, arguing that he saw potential for a meat business. "I became the manager of a business with four employees that was not making money," he said. Soon St. Cloud Hatcheries became Jack Frost Farm Foods and started using eggs from hens bred for meat production, instead of egg production.

Don Helgeson took over as head of the company in 1951. In 1955 Don Helgeson and his brother Jerry bought the company from their father and continued the business transition to meat production. The company negotiated a deal with Armour Foods and began to grow and process chickens. The Jack Frost strategy was to negotiate long-term contracts with farmers in the region, setting the growers up with specialized barns and the equipment necessary to raise premium chickens in an efficient manner. Applying the best science of the day the company built its own farm, updating its breeder facilities, and established a food mill to provide nutritious feed and create uniformity in its farming practices. The existing Armour plant in Cold Spring, Minnesota, served as Jack Frost's first processing factory.

In 1964 a site on Lincoln Avenue in St. Cloud was developed as a new hatchery. The company's direction was clearly focused on providing chicken meat to retail markets.

The 1970s: Another Name Change

It was in the 1970s that the company turned away from its $25 investment in the Jack Frost name. The Jack Frost logo had been associated with the hatchery and the company had moved solidly into chicken processing and production. The business launched fresh tray-packed chicken parts under the name Gold'n Plump Poultry.

Gold'n Plump remained family-owned, however. Don and Jerry built the meat business together but Don and his son Mike took over when Jerry Helgeson sold his share of the company in 1985 after 30 years in the poultry business.

The company continued to grow and expand operations throughout its history. Under Don Helgeson's leadership the company continued to diversify its product offerings. In 1983 the business acquired the Armour processing plant in Cold Spring, making it one of the largest employers in the city. In the book, St. Cloud--The Triplet City, the all-encompassing nature of the company is aptly described: "Today, the company oversees the breeding and growing operations of its contract farmers, hatches chicks, mills the feed, processes the chickens and markets finished products."

An attempt to take the Gold'n Plump brand into the foreign marketplace had failed in the 1970s when Mike Helgeson ventured to Indonesia in an attempt to set up an operation and trade there. Years later the company saw some success internationally when Gold'n Plump began selling products in China. Chicken parts had found a strong market in the Far East, where chicken feet in particular are considered a delicacy.

Following national consumer trends, Gold'n Plump began to offer prepared chicken products, from marinated pre-seasoned packaged meat to a whole line of fully cooked options.

In 1988 Gold'n Plump inaugurated an aggressive and creative advertising campaign that included humorous ads in various media formats. The award-winning ads helped boost name recognition and sales for the company. Company research had indicated that the Gold'n Plump brand was the industry's most preferred throughout the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin. The ads hearkened back to the days when founder E.M. Helgeson wanted to promote his chicks as vigorous and healthy. Ads included parachuting chickens, exercising chickens, and giant chicken prints announcing: "It's a Mighty, Meaty Chicken." The trademarked slogans "It's no ordinary chicken" and "It's no ordinary company" helped promote Gold'n Plump with measurable success since the ad campaigns started.

In 1993 Mike Helgeson was named Gold'n Plump's CEO. Soon after he took the helm, Gold'n Plump completed the purchase of Arcadia Fryers in Arcadia, Wisconsin. The 1993 purchase included an update of the facilities. The production complex was expanded, with new chicken barns, a new feed mill, and increased processing capabilities in the Arcadia plant.

In 1996 a raid by the Immigration and Naturalization Service took place at the Cold Spring facility. Workers with forged papers were arrested and deported. Gold'n Plump established new hiring procedures in the wake of the event. The labor market was tight for processors in the industry and many new immigrants comprised much of the company's labor force. In 1983 a survey showed that 18 percent of the Cold Spring workers were of Asian descent. Throughout the 1990s the ethnic makeup of company workers was mostly Hispanic. The late 1990s and into 2000 saw an influx of Somali refugees in Minnesota, and their numbers were increasing at the plant.

In August 1998 the company faced one of its most difficult losses when fire broke out at its Cold Spring plant. A conveyor system overheated, causing fire damage to the building. In the aftermath, the plant underwent a $20 million reconstruction and expansion. According to CEO Mike Helgeson in the Cold Spring Record, "The fire was an unforgettable challenge, but we came back stronger, with a plant that is one of the most innovative in the industry."

Also in 1998 Gold'n Plump acquired a processing facility in Luverne, Minnesota. The plant became a part of Gold'n Plump's continued attempts at innovation. The company had always prided itself for industry "firsts." Gold'n Plump Poultry was one of the first chicken companies to voluntarily provide nutritional labeling on its packaging. The company became the first poultry company to automate its chicken-catching equipment. Gold'n Plump was among the first businesses to freshness date-code its products and was the first major chicken producer to offer a line of certified organic chicken in a fresh meat case. Its most recent attempt at industry innovation occurred in 1999 when the company introduced the industry's first full line of fresh fixed-weight scannable products. By selling fresh chicken by set weight packages the company promoted many advantages to both retailers and consumers. Merchandisers would no longer have to weigh and re-wrap packages before they were placed in freezer cases. Inventory and stocking could be streamlined, and stores could run promotions offering multiple product deals. The company saw the fixed-weight uniformity as a plus for consumers as well.

The same year Gold'n Plump added a variety of fresh and frozen chicken products to its offerings. Gold'n Plump processed both ready-to-cook pre-seasoned and stuffed chicken breasts and a line of fully cooked chicken pieces, including Chick'n Ribs, Wing'Ums, Lil' Chicks, and Gold'n Tenders. The pre-seasoned meats were available in an assortment of flavors, including Cordon Bleu, Italian Style Herb & Cheese, Wild Rice with Portabello Mushrooms, Teriyaki Rice & Vegetables, and Four Cheese & Broccoli. The company also processed chicken into pre-seasoned chicken patties, marinaded fresh breasts, and pre-cut strips and boneless individually frozen pieces.

Gold'n Plump byproducts were a large part of the company's earnings, with roughly 15 percent of its business resulting from other manufacturers' use of Gold'n Plump's scrap. Byproducts were used to produce dog food, hot dogs, and composted topsoil.

In 2000 Gold'n Plump consolidated its plants and closed two of its smaller operations. The consolidation streamlined the business, allowing it to concentrate its production at its three large facilities.

In 2001 Gold'n Plump's market area extended into 23 western and midwestern states. A negotiated deal with Target, another Minnesota company, had Gold'n Plump's territory expanding into areas where SuperTarget stores were developed.

Gold'n Plump continued its tradition of philanthropic giving, having become a Minnesota Keystone company in 1989. The company pledged to donate at least 5 percent of its earnings to charitable causes. In February 2002 Gold'n Plump maintained this legacy by donating 140,000 pounds of chicken to America's Second Harvest Food Bank. The company also supported causes ranging from sporting programs, local fire safety efforts, band programs, and college and university programs, as well as state park improvements.

Over the years, Gold'n Plump received many awards for its business practices, including the first annual "Chairman's of Excellence Award" from the United Way of Central Minnesota, the 2001 "Safety Partner Award" from Manpower, the 2001 "Family Friendly Employer" by Child Care Choices, "Best of Show" from Supervalu at the 2001 Corporate Deli Fair, "The Hormel Spirit of Excellence Award" in 2000, the 1999 "Vendor Award" from Target Corporation, and "Best Mental Health Practices in the Workplace" in 2000 award from the Mental Health Association of Minnesota.

Gold'n Plump Poultry planned to continue to adapt its products to the challenges of the contemporary marketplace. The company concentrated its efforts on providing better and more healthful chicken choices for the average consumer. In addition Gold'n Plump planned to continue to introduce chicken products tailored to the pace of modern life. The company prided itself on innovation and keeping pace with consumer demand. Gold'n Plump hoped that despite extreme price pressure in the industry, the value of its products and its name would continue to lead to profitable growth.

Principal Subsidiaries: Gold'n Plump Marketing Inc.; Jack Frost Inc.; Gold'n Plump Limited Partnership LLB; Gold'n Plump Food LLC.

Principal Competitors: Perdue Farms Inc.; Tyson Foods, Inc.

Further Reading:

  • Dominik, John J., and John C. Massmann, St.Cloud--The Triplet City, Sun Valley, Calif.: American Historical Press, 2002.
  • "Gold'n Plump Poultry Celebrates Anniversaries: 20 Years in Cold Spring, 10 Years in Arcadia, Wisc.," Cold Spring Record, April 15, 2003, p. 1.
  • Halena, Sue, "Gold'n Plump Marks 75th Year," St. Cloud Times, September 10, 2001, p. 1.
  • Young, Barbara, "Midwest Gold," National Provisioner, 2001.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 54. St. James Press, 2003.