Northwood, OH (13abc Action News) - Some of the best tomatoes in the country are grown right here in our region.
Hirzel Canning has three plants in northwest Ohio and the products are on store shelves all over the country.
This part of Ohio is tremendous for growing tomatoes and this is peak season.
Herb Milem is the Director of Retail Sales,"Harvest runs for about two months starting in mid August. It runs through the first frost or early October. We get a short amount of time to harvest a huge crop."
Steve Hirzel is President of the company and part of the fourth generation of the family still involved with the business, "We do six million cases of tomato products a year between our three plants."
Hirzel says just about anything you can make with a tomato is made by the company for its Dei Fratelli brand, "We do diced, whole, stewed, salsas, juices, spaghetti and pizza sauces. You just keep naming things and we're doing them."
The Dei Fratelli products are found on store shelves around the corner and around the country.
Milem says they're sold in more than 35 states, "You'll find us in Kroger, WalMart and Meijer stores. We're also in local independents like the Andersons, Walt Churchill's Markets, Sautter's and Kazmaiers."
So what's the number one seller? Hirzel says the answer might surprise you, "Our biggest seller believe it or not, is a very simple product. It's the crushed tomato in a 28 ounce can with no salt added.It's actually pretty healthy."
The products are in what's called a fresh pack,"Within hours of harvest, we are putting the tomatoes in cans in what we call a fresh pack. It is a fairly unique process. There are no preservatives or additives in our products. We just focus on what mother nature has given us!"
Hirzel grows less than five percent of the tomatoes it uses.
The bulk of the crop comes from more than 30 local farmers and just like the Hirzel family, many of them have been part of the business for decades, "These are family farmers and half of them have been with us for a couple generations and another handful of them have been with us for three generations."
Thanks to that team work, what started in the Hirzel family kitchen nearly a century ago, has now been served to tens of millions of people, "We're proud of feeding people. That's who we are. Feeding people in need is also a big part of what we do through our work with food banks. It's important, it's a good legacy to be part of. We're proud of what we do and we just hope we can continue what was laid before us."
In addition to the Northwood plant, Hirzel also has facilities in Ottawa and Pemberville.
There are about 130 full-time employees between the three plants, but the number of workers nearly triples during peak season.
While tomatoes are the bulk of the business, Hirzel also makes sauerkraut under the Silver Fleece brand name.