Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.
Jeff Grogg is building a top-shelf food consultancy business that is known on the national level in Battle Creek while making a positive impact at the local level.
JPG Resources, the food and beverage consulting business Grogg founded in 2009, is already the second- or third-largest business of its type in the United States with a team of 40 industry professionals, some of whom work at the company’s downtown Battle Creek headquarters and others who work remotely.
Jeff Gogg founded JPG Resources in 2009.
Last week, JPG Resources
was awarded a $208,618 grant from Battle Creek Unlimited through the Downtown Real Estate Improvement Fund. Grogg says he plans to use the grant funds for renovation and build-out of ground-floor retail space in their building at 62 E. Michigan Ave., which will become a permanent location for Café Rica. Café Rica, founded by brothers Tristan and Jackson Bredehoft, started out in downtown Battle Creek in 2016.
“While we don’t normally work around restaurants this closely, these guys have been disciplined in their approach and they’ve been very collaborative,” Grogg says. “We’re not consulting or advising with them. This is a collaboration with the idea to create a long-term spot for their home in Battle Creek. They were looking for the right landlord.”
is currently housed in a temporary incubation space at 80 W. Michigan Ave. shared with Simply Sensational Berries. The Bredehoft brothers say they “are honored that JPG Resources and Battle Creek Unlimited have confidence in Café Rica and have given us the opportunity to help revitalize downtown Battle Creek. We are eager to not only further develop our footprint but to become a community staple as we expand our food options and become a full-service café.”
Expansions such as this will go a long way to creating a vibrant downtown district while establishing Battle Creek as the place to go, says Joe Sobieralski, President and President and CEO of Battle Creek Unlimited
, Calhoun County’s economic development agency. He likens these efforts as being the “cradle to college” trajectory for businesses.
“We’re excited about this,” Sobieralski says. “They (Tristan and Jackson Bredehoft) have come through the ranks and now have a permanent location. Our downtown district is starting to balance out with New Holland, the Record Box, and Rafaynee’s, and now we have Café Rica on the other end and we’re starting to infill. It’s another home-grown local small business that gives residents and visitors another option when they come downtown.”
Café Rica is the first recipient of a grant through the Real Estate Improvement Fund that was established by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation
to address significant hurdles faced by those wanting to invest in downtown Battle Creek. The fund focuses on revitalizing vacant space, improving code compliance, resolving structural and mechanical issues, and supporting other upgrades needed to bring unoccupied properties back into productive use.
Tristan and Justin Tristan Bredehoft show off their drinks.
Grogg says these funds are critical to businesses such as Café Rica that don’t have additional dollars to purchase and install equipment to make its new location code compliant.
“There’s no way they could have invested $100,000 to put a sprinkler system in that building,” Grogg says. He applauds the city and the Kellogg Foundation for putting money where it will make the biggest impact.
“You look at what Battle Creek did over the years, putting in new sidewalks, lighting and infrastructure, but sidewalks don’t make money, and if the buildings aren’t usable, it doesn’t matter,” he says.
“Getting these buildings into use is a good investment. In the last few years, efforts in Battle Creek have been much more intelligently directed. These buildings cost so much money to renovate, modernize, and restore. It’s critical and it’s way overdue and I’m glad it’s happening.”
Upon completion of the renovation to its building, JPG Resources plans to relocate its consulting offices and food labs into the upper floor of the building and at the same time leave room for expansion.
Despite the fact that food consultancy businesses like Grogg's tend to be located in larger cities such as Boulder, Colo., San Francisco or New York, Grogg says he has no qualms about his decision to open his business in Battle Creek where he has made his home and livelihood for more than 20 years. He says once people get over the initial surprise about where JPG Resources is located, they then see the depth and breadth of experience in the team he has assembled.
“In a consulting group, you need to have 100 percent confidence in what people can do. Everyone on our team has credibility,” Grogg says. “We have just over 40 staff and they are largely from our collective network. We’ve got people from Kellogg, Post, Kraft, and Nestle, and some who have come from smaller companies.”
About 25 of his employees are here in Michigan and another 12 to 15 work remotely.
While there have been rumors throughout the years that some companies in Battle Creek have encouraged employees to live outside the area, Grogg says he has not had challenges hiring people to come to work for him and live in Battle Creek. He says many on his team appreciate shorter commutes and the close proximity to downtown.
“We just moved somebody in from California and someone else from Brazil,” Grogg says. “We’ve been successful in bringing the talent here. We need to create a great place to work where people want to be. We’re trying to get as much of our team located in Battle Creek as we can.”
Grogg’s relationship with Battle Creek began in 1991 when he came here to do an internship at the Kellogg Co. At the time, he was studying Food Science at Purdue University. He was eventually hired in at Kellogg where he worked primarily in the product development area and oversaw the implementation of Kashi products. He was head of research and development for 8.5 years for that business.
His time with Kashi expanded his knowledge base and gave him opportunities to do things such as selecting the right equipment, writing contracts, and sourcing materials. He says the Kashi team numbered about 20 people and operated in a very collaborative way.
“Kellogg really left that business alone for the first four or five years. There were a bunch of young people out in California and few of us who sort of dropped in and helped,” Grogg says. “The mandate at Kellogg was 'You be Kashi' and they gave us a lot of latitude to grow the business. We went from $25 million to a $750 million business in eight-and-a-half years. It was a phenomenal success story. It was quite the experience.”
Faced with the prospect of Kashi being reabsorbed by Kellogg, Grogg says he couldn’t see himself being a part of that.
“As Kellogg was absorbing Kashi into the mothership, that was when I opted out,” Grogg says. “When you have that kind of experience it changes your perspective and I couldn’t envision going back to corporate.”
The “great learning experience” he had during his time with Kellogg and Kashi positioned him well to take that next step which resulted in the establishment of JPG Resources. The company advises early-stage food companies on business development and marketing and helps them find suppliers and distributors.
JPG Food Technician Bailee Brown working in the laboratory
“We help a lot of young companies understand where they’re going and how to get there,” Grogg says. This often includes the design of products, information about supply chains, understanding a business model, and where they should be selling.
“For bigger companies, we work with them on how to move faster with innovation and how to be more nimble,” Grogg says. “We help the smaller guys act with confidence and have more of a perspective.”
Some examples? The company worked with Healthy Warrior, a manufacturer of plant-based nutritional bars among other products from the time it was a tiny startup to when it was sold to PepsiCo last year. Another company they’re working with now focuses on frozen pizza and it is close to selling. Grogg says they have also worked with that company since it first started and have been speaking with it about the impact of a decision to sell.
Closer to home, and a 30-minute drive down I-94 to the west, Grogg and his team have been consulting with Ernie Pang, Chief Junkless Officer. Junkless
is the name of Pang’s Portage-based company which manufactures clean ingredient granola bars that are sold at supermarkets including Family Fare and Meijer. They're also sold on Amazon.
Start-ups and smaller businesses similar to Pang’s were behind Grogg’s 2016 decision to open a small-scale food manufacturing facility on the city’s north side. Known as Snackwerks, the plant is located at 166 E. Goodale St.
Products such as cookies, nutrition bars, and nut clusters are made there for companies both large and small. The manufacturer is for companies that are not interested in operating their own facilities or who want to farm out a specific product. Although Junkless is not a Snackwerks client, Grogg has clients that, like Junkless, have products in grocery and convenience stores. Others have their products in American hotel chains.
Grogg says his role at both JPG Resources and Snackwerks is to provide guidance and leadership and build pipelines for both businesses. He co-founded a company similar to Snackwerks in 2009 in Portland, Ore., It was a kosher- and organic-certified contract manufacturer that made a variety of baked goods sold under other companies' brands. He sold his interest in that company in 2012.
“There’s a little bit of overlap, but only two or three of Snackwerks customers use JPG,” he says. “They complement each other in the sense that when the plant needs technical expertise we have the JPG team, which can also help it tap into finance and networking opportunities.”
The companies that use Snackwerks, sell under their own brand name label and their products are shipped from the Snackwerks' warehouse to customers. The advantage for these companies, Grogg says, is that they have the opportunity to produce their products on a small scale, which enables them to save money until it makes sense for them to get into larger-scale production.
“When we make a product using granola, as an example, our minimum is 5,000 pounds at a time and at other bigger production facilities that minimum is 100,000 pounds,” Grogg says. “They get a good long run with us before they graduate.”
The Goodale Street facility employs 40 and is expected to increase to 50 by the end of this year. A second production line is expected to be operational by mid-November giving Snackwerks the capability to run an additional shift in addition to the two currently operating.
Snackwerks has 10 customers and produces food products such as granola, cookies, snack bars, and snackable bites. Grogg says they are starting the production of four news items between now and year’s end.
The decision to locate the facility on the city’s north side was intentional and in line with Grogg’s decision to make a positive difference in the community. He and his wife have lived on the north side for 20 years and knew that there were no manufacturing jobs and scant employment opportunities there.
“It should be important to everybody that if you’re going to be somewhere you should try to make it better,” Grogg says. “My wife and I had this conversation because we weren’t happy with what was going on in Battle Creek. We asked ourselves if we should leave, or stop complaining, stay, and make it better.”
There are a lot of ways to make things better, he says, and they don’t always have to be about the money.
“We’re not able to give out big chunks of money, but hopefully we can create more jobs and have an impact through our business. Everybody should be taking the bigger picture view in the community, which can, and is getting better.”