October 27, 2008
by Andrew Joseph, Features Editor
If replicating centuries of culinary craftsmanship, tradition and great taste in a modern, consumer-friendly retail package is a metaphorical equivalent of capturing lighting in a bottle, then business partners Tom Weiler and Herb Grisebach offer sure proof that the notion of lightning never striking in the same place twice is an urban myth.
As co-owners of the 16,000-square-foot Heidelberg Foods Ltd. plant in St. Jacob’s, Ont.—located smack in the middle of the Mennonite country in southwestern Ontario—the two ambitious meat industry veterans may still have some ways to go in making the 21-year-old meat-processing business a true force in Ontario’s super-competitive market for European-style deli meats and sausages, but they have already made many right moves to getting there since acquiring the former custom butcher-shop back in 2005.
“As late as 2005, both Herb and I were working for a large national meat-processing company when we saw an opportunity here to do something that we had already done all our lives—but to do it our way,” explains company president Weiler, who went into the meat business right after graduating from high-school.
For his part, general manager Grisebach followed high-school with obtaining a university degree and spending four years in non-food manufacturing before finally ending up in the met business.
Boasting some 45 years of meat-processing industry experience and know-how between them, the two long-time friends quickly set out to revamp Heidelberg into a modern, 21st century business enterprise combining the best of Old World recipes with state-of-the-art processing and packaging technology.
Prior to that, recalls Grisebach, Heidelberg Foods was run largely as a custom processing operation that would derive most of its revenues by processing freshly-killed wild game brought to the plant by local hunting enthusiasts.
While that worked well-enough for the plant’s previous owners, Grisebach and Weiler had much bigger things in mind for the operation—starting with an all-consuming effort to obtain the critical CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) certification that would formally designate Heidelberg as a federally-inspected facility.
“The race to become federal was on when two of our largest customers insisted on purchasing federally-inspected product only,” Weiler told Canadian Packaging during a recent visit to the Heidelberg plant. “I can tell you that it was a very intense two years, as we began enhancing the building to federal standards under the CFIA supervision.”