Our journey took us from Lansing to Zeeland, Battle Creek and Kalamazoo, but one of the highlights was a trip to Holland in the west of the state to visit Hudsonville Creamery & Ice Cream Company - which is notching up double-digit growth in a category about as mature as they get: ice cream.
So what’s the secret to its success?
Making great ice cream - obviously - says executive director, manufacturing, Cary Grover (pictured above), who says the Hudsonville products have a rich and creamy taste but are not super premium, as they have about 12-13% butter fat vs the 16%+ you might find in Ben & Jerry's or Häagen-Dazs.
We don’t pay slotting fees... We're not playing that game
But the company also knows what its brand stands for, he says.
“We don’t do ice cream novelties, and we’ve not branched out into organic or all-natural. We also don’t pay slotting fees. We don’t buy space, we don’t want to play that game, as our product should speak for itself.”
We don’t need to be a national brand to be successful
And so far, this approach appears to be paying off, with strong growth in North Indiana, Ohio and the Chicago area as well as Michigan, and retail customers from local independents to Walmart, Meijer and Kroger all increasing listings, he says.
But the company is not looking for world domination, he adds. “We don’t need to be a national brand to be successful; we can grow organically in the Great Lakes region and that’s very sustainable.
“We are very product of our product and where we come from. A lot of people around here grew up with the brand and it’s part of people’s memories.”
We are very product of our product and where we come from
From a marketing perspective, the company works hard to connect with consumers directly, using social media to invite them to suggest seasonal flavors and partnering with the Detroit Tigers and the Grand Hotel in Mackinac Island.
Founded in 1895 as Hudsonville Creamery, a butter co-operative, Hudsonville started making ice cream in 1926 and became family owned in 1946 when Dick Hoezee and his four sons began expanding the brand throughout west Michigan.
Hudsonville was purchased by another West Michigan family in 2003 and moved into its current plant at 345 E 48th St, Holland, in 2004. However, Dick's son Dell Hoezee still serves as a consultant to the business.