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A Golden Anniversary: Hickory Harvest Celebrates 50 Years With New Products at PLMA 2022

Family-run Hickory Harvest comes to the 2022 PLMA Trade Show and celebrates a major milestone.
Greg Sleter
Associate Publisher/Executive Editor
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A half-century ago, Joseph and Pauline Swiatkowski founded Hickory Harvest by selling smoked sausages and cheese at county fairs throughout Ohio. The work was long and hard, but would ultimately provide the Akron, Ohio-based company with a strong foundation from which to build on.

“The fairs were hard on the family as it meant traveling throughout the summer and working 18 hour days,” Joe Swiatkowski, the company’s current president & CEO, and grandson of Joseph and Pauline told Store Brands. “My father (George), who was then running the company after taking over from his father, knew he needed to transform the company into something that would be more stable year-round.”

Hickory Harvest
Joe Swiatkowski

Today, Hickory Harvest is celebrating its 50th anniversary, a major milestone for the third-generation, family run company. With a majority of its business focused on providing retailers with private label products, the company offers retailers items in several categories including roasted and flavored nuts, chocolates and yogurts, trail and snack mixes, and organics and dried fruits.

The company will be at the 2022 Private Label Manufacturers Association Trade Show in Chicago to showcase several new items that will include a variety of items offered in multi-packs.

Swiatkowski spoke with Store Brands about the company’s golden anniversary, its growth over the years and how it has evolved to meet the ever changing needs of its retailer customers.

STORE BRANDS: What does it mean for Hickory Harvest to commemorate its 50th year in business?


JOE SWIATKOWSKI: It really means a lot to our employees and the community we serve. It’s a great milestone and we have done a few things throughout the year to promote the anniversary. But we’ve always been a humble company and are fortunate to have grown with the help of our long-term customers and partners.

SB: The company started out selling products at fairs. At what point did the company see a need to change its business model?


JS: My father was in charge of the company and knew he had to find a way to run the business without spending the summers traveling from fair to fair. The money was good, but it was very difficult on the family and he knew there was a need to transform the company and sell our products to retailers.

Our first customer was Acme Fresh Market, which at the time was a 15-store chain located in Northeast Ohio. We would receive a great deal of support from a number of retailers, including several independent grocery stores.

SB: What have been some of the keys to the company’s success over the years?


JS: I think it’s our focus on staying humble. We don’t try to be something we’re not. We continue to stay focused on working with current customers and finding new customers in the middle to high market. In addition, we’re not trying to be a branded company. Building a brand requires a great deal of time and money. Our forte has been and continues to be developing products for retailer’s private label programs.

SB: What were the factors behind the company’s continued product expansion?


JS: A lot of it was that we were able to get our products into the produce sections of grocery stores. We became diverse enough to carry a lot of different products and also started manufacturing a broader range of products. About seven years ago, we acquired a company that made chocolate and yogurt products. We were already roasting our own nuts and now we’re able to do our own coatings.

fruit and nuts
SB: With your private label assortment, does the company develop products or do you work with retailers to meet their specific needs?


JS: It’s both, really. Our research and development department works to come up with new products, and we are able to work with our customers to develop items that meet a specific need.

SB: As Hickory Harvest continues to look for growth opportunities, what are some of its biggest challenges?


JS: For us it’s finding employees. The past five years have been very difficult to find the right people that fit with our company, and that issue was only exasperated by COVID-19. The Northeast Ohio region is now a hotbed for manufacturing. We have Goodyear and Amazon nearby along with several other food manufactures. We compete against everyone when trying to attract new talent.

SB: What will Hickory Harvest have on display at the PLMA Show?


JS: Multipacks are newer for us and we’ll be showing a number of bag-in-a-bag concepts. Everything will be featured under the Hickory Harvest brand, but we can work with retailers to develop items that fit with what they are looking for.