By Kristen Miller

Before it was bought out by Faribault Foods in 1969, Northland Canning Company got its start in 1924 as one of two major canneries in Cokato.

At the end of 2005, Faribault Foods celebrated 110 years of business in Minnesota.

Faribault Foods is a fourth generation company which is rare, according to Executive Vice President of Research and Engineering Jim Nelson. “There is only 4 percent of privately held companies and we are one of the oldest continuous canning companies left, others have been sold or closed,” Nelson explained.

With most canning companies moving or going out of business within the past 25 years, Faribault Foods has managed to thrive.

“I think the key to our success has been to constantly innovate and change Faribault Foods’ business portfolio to meet changing customer needs and market opportunities,” said CEO Reid MacDonald. “When we saw limited growth in canned vegetables, we developed new products.”

This last year, the Cokato plant added 8,500 square feet to the processing building and 10,000 square feet to the warehouse, according to Nelson. The site parking area was completely redone and a new front office was built.

They have also added a new processing and packaging line for 15-ounce microwavable plastic bowls that will hold pasta, soup and chili products. Currently there are 175 workers, but they are hiring 20 workers for a new production shift, Nelson said.

Up until 1994, the Cokato plant was a seasonal vegetable canning company with shifts in August and September. Then, it became a year-round facility processing meat, pasta and soup products.

The Cokato plant produces all USDA food products including meat products, soups and ravioli, while the Faribault plant specializes in bean products, and the Elk River plant specializes in beverages.

History of Cokato canning
To reduce shipping costs and to ensure a “greater return for farm produce by eliminating the middle man, canneries sprang up in small towns” between 1903 and 1907, according to Roger Salmela’s book on Cokato canneries. [Salmela’s book, The Cokato Canneries, 1904—1978, is available at the museum.]

Cokato Canning Company began in 1904 and was later purchased by Minnesota Valley. The next canning company came later, in 1924, after a group of businessmen and farmers met. This became Northland Canning Company.

Many locals worked in the canning companies during the summer. During World War II, Northland used German POWs to work in their fields.

Faribault Foods purchased Northland in 1969.

This article first appeared in the February 13, 2006 edition of the Enterprise Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.