Snack foods maker Shearer’s has been purchased by a Chicago-based private equity firm, and the founding family leadership will be stepping down.
Chicago-based private equity firm Wind Point Partners announced it has signed an agreement to purchase Brewster-based Shearer’s Foods. The transaction is expected to close in October, and terms were not disclosed.
Wind Point has partnered with C.J. Fraleigh, who will join Shearer’s as chairman and chief executive officer. Fraleigh was most recently CEO of Sara Lee North America and has 25 years experience in consumer products.
Bob Shearer, 61, who founded Shearer’s in 1974 with his father and late mother and brother, Tom, will step down as CEO. His wife, Melissa, also, 61, who has been serving as vice president of communications, will also step down, said Bob Shearer in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon.
Bob Shearer said he is unsure whether his brother, Tom, who is in management at Shearers, will stay on. No other Shearer family members are involved in the food business, which is the largest producer of private label salty snacks in North America and the largest producer of kettle-cooked potato chips in the world, according to the company.
In a 2010 interview, Bob Shearer acknowledged there might come a time when a Shearer is not running the company.
On Tuesday, Shearer said it was time for the him to do something new and the family was involved in the decision by majority owner, private-equity firm Mistral Equity partners, to find a new owner and management.
“I’m the one that found the people,” said Shearer. “I have some other business opportunities I want to pursue.
“I’m just looking forward to doing some other things,” he said, adding he has some interest in other non-food companies, though he declined to name them. The agreement prohibits Shearer from working in the salty-food business. “I’ll miss the people and our customers. We have great customers and great people.”
The company started in 1974 when Shearer’s late parents decided to take a chance on a new career from a grocery store business and become a Wise potato chip distributor. Eventually, the family decided it could make its own potato chips, and the Shearer’s brand was born.
The company makes its namesake line of salty chips, kettle chips, corn tortilla chips, multigrain chips, cheese curls, pretzels and rice tortilla chips. But the company’s main source of revenue is through private-label production and contract work for national brands.
It was that manufacturing capability of other retail products that interested Fraleigh and Wind Point, said Fraleigh in a phone interview from his home in the Chicago area.
“The company that Bob and the team have built has just been outstanding,” said Fraleigh. “They’re unsurpassed from a manufacturing quality and there’s just a deep sense of values and commitment to the customer and community. The intersection of a great manufacturing business with those values and people really attracted me to it.”
Fraleigh said his background includes working with traditional grocery customers and he sees an opportunity to add to Shearer’s manufacturing capability.
Fraleigh said the Shearer’s brand is a known regional brand that has some national presence.
“I expect the Shearer’s brand to continue to be strong and grow, but the real focus will be on serving the retailers,” Fraleigh said.
In a news release, Mark Burgett, a managing director at Wind Point, said: “Wind Point’s partnership with C.J. — a top caliber CEO in the food industry — along with our depth of experience with food investments, creates an excellent opportunity to drive growth at Shearer’s.”
The company’s five manufacturing facilities — in Brewster, Massillon and in Texas, Oregon and Virginia — will remain, along with the company’s 1,850 employees, Fraleigh said.
“We purchased Shearer’s to grow, so yes, I would see the number of facilities growing in the future,” he said.
The company headquarters will remain in Ohio, Fraleigh said. The company in 2010 built a new $20 million plant in Massillon, which also was said to be the world’s first food plant to earn a platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
Fraleigh said since he was a junior in high school in the Chicago area, he has promised his family he will go back and forth between Ohio and Illinois for a while. A move for the Fraleighs to Ohio is a possibility later, he said.
“I really like the area,” he said.
But for now, it takes two hours for him to go door-to-door by air, and he’s used the Akron-Canton Airport and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.
Fraleigh stressed his position on the headquarters location.
“The headquarters is in Ohio. I’m coming to it; it’s not coming to me,” he said. Fraleigh added that the executive team is strong, but when asked if he was bringing any employees with him, he declined comment and said no announcements had been made about management changes.
Asked the significance of a family member no longer running the namesake company, Fraleigh said, “I think the real legacy of Bob is that he’s built an organization that will sustain and continue to thrive beyond himself.”
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org.