Oak Park firm helps produce store-branded foods
Paul Beckwith of Oak Park started Sachem Company 17 years ago. The Oak Park firm is a food brokerage - it helps other companies create and find buyers for their products -- many of which end up as store-brand alternatives to national brands. | Meredith Mo
Updated: February 4, 2013 6:13AM
OAK PARK — Those Jewel-Osco chicken nuggets in your freezer and Meijer’s French bread on the shelf — who knew they’re connected to Oak Park?
These and a host of other store-brand products, also called private-label products, were developed by the Sachem Company, a food brokerage located at 1033 South Blvd.
The company is the brainchild of 30-year Oak Park resident Paul Beckwith, who put his background in food and consumer product development to work by launching his own business. The Sachem Company, of which Beckwith is president, aligns manufacturers with companies seeking to create their own versions of national-brand consumer items.
For instance, Sachem partners with Koch Foods, a chicken-products company, to manufacture and package nuggets and other frozen chicken products that compare to the Tyson brand. Koch is behind Jewel’s Farm Fresh Chicken and Dominick’s Safeway chicken products, and others including private-label offerings from Walmart, Kroger and Aldi stores.
“When I started, store brands were 4 to 7 percent of the market. Now they’re more like 23 percent and in some cases 30 percent,” Beckwith said, noting that demand for private labels varies by food category.
Store-brand dog foods, for instance, account for more than half of the category’s total sales, according to Beckwith. Frozen dinner sales, by contrast, are heavily dominated by consumer brands, like Stouffer’s.
Two primary factors have propelled the growth of store brands in recent years, Beckwith said: “It’s a combination of the economy and that the quality of the products has improved.”
Examples are paper towels and macaroni and cheese, he added. In both categories, today’s store brand products far surpass those initially introduced, and can even trump national brands in quality.
“The biggest change,” Beckwith said, during his tenure in the field, “has been the acceptance of store-branded products and the ever-changing tastes of the American public. People want more healthy but they also want convenience. Most young people don’t know how to cook today, or they don’t take the time to.”
In addition to chicken products, the Sachem Company is working with manufacturers to create private-label nutrition bars, hazelnut spread, chocolate and other items, including pies made by the same company that serves Baker’s Square.
Beckwith, who was honored as Dominican University’s 2007 “Entrepreneur of the Year,” is particularly enthused about a new foray into bread products. Imported from France, the bread is 85 percent baked and packaged in a way that allows a 13-week shelf life. Customers finish baking it at home.
Introducing the bread through Walmart and Meijer’s stores, Beckwith anticipates success.
“I’m a gambler. Some things I make a lot of money on and others I don’t, but I expect this will be big in five years,” he said, noting that partially-baked bread is already popular in Europe.
The Sachem Company employs 11 people, most from Oak Park. Previously it’s had a staff of up to 30, before changes in the industry eliminated certain “middleman” roles.
“I had to restructure myself,” Beckwith said.
After 17 years at the Sachem Company’s helm, Beckwith’s professional passion still shows.
“There’s always something new,” he said, which fills his personality’s need for variety. In addition, he thrives on being his own boss and the relationship-building nature of his business.
The company’s name, Sachem, salutes the Beckwith family’s former and beloved golden retriever.
“When I started a company I didn’t want to name it after me so I named it after our dog,” Beckwith said. “Sachem is an Indian word that means chief of many tribes.”