They were “organic before organic was cool,” having started packaging frozen vegetables in 1943, Sno Pac is ready to celebrate a milestone of 75 years in business.

Sno Pac President Pete Gengler is the fourth generation owner of the certified organic frozen vegetables company located in Caledonia. He successfully took over the company from his father, Ramon Gengler, and expanded the buildings and product lines.

“We do so many different things now,” he said of the business’s success. “We’re expanding on crops right now, like potatoes. We’ve put another addition on for a crop line.”

“Another addition” is only one of many that have been added onto the facilities. More machinery has been added too, such as a used cutting machine that will automatically cut the tops off carrots, versus employees doing that by hand.

“It seems like there’s a building project going on every year,” he noted.

Expansion is the right theme for this company as it attracts new and long-time generations of customers.

“We like to think that we get to be a big family here, and a lot of people have said that,” Gengler said. “We want it to be that way.”

Sno Pac started as organic and has stayed that way throughout its history, even before organic was cool, Gengler chuckled.

“It used to be the ‘hippie thing,’ but it’s mainstream now. You see it everywhere,” he said. “Everyone is more health conscious and aware.”

Organic food is food that is grown without chemicals and processed in certain ways. Sno Pac limits its use of sanitizers on the food they process and package.

“People like it because you don’t have to worry about chemicals,” Gengler said. “I think it tastes a little better than food with chemicals.”

Local taste

Most of the food Sno Pac packages is grown locally in Houston County and the surrounding area, which equals about 3,500 acres. Some things are bought in, like blueberries and cranberries, which mostly come from Wisconsin.

When people buy Sno Pac products, they’re supporting local farmers and the economy.

“We have contracts with local farmers, trucking companies, contractors and implements,” Gengler said. “We try to stay local with everything.”

Staying true with the local scene, most area grocery stores carry Sno Pac products.

Current stores include Red’s IGA in Spring Grove, Iowa Food Hub and Oneota Food Co-Op in Decorah, Quillins in Caledonia, People’s Food Co-Op in La Crosse and Rochester, and Bluff Country Co-Op in Winona.

The company also ships its product from east to west coasts, a few locations in Canada and occasionally overseas.

Creating contracts with distributors is one of the things Gengler enjoys about his job.

“It’s fun meeting all different people from all over the country and beyond,” he said.

That fact is backed by the company’s long history, when Gengler’s grandpa, Leonard Gengler, distributed his goods to stores in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.

So what’s the secret to keeping a unique business alive for so long? Hard work, Gengler says.

“It’s just what we do. We just keep on going.”

Sno Pac-ed in history

Before Sno Pac was officially established, Gengler’s great-grandfather, J.P. Gengler, started out as a farmer and then became an architect with a lumber company, who built houses and barns, circa 1900.

He didn’t stop there, though. He built a pond to harvest ice and ship it by railroad to the southern states and also made local deliveries to people’s iceboxes.

In the 1930s, Leonard Gengler built a locker plant with 1,000 lockers for people to rent out, which used ammonia refrigeration. That plant butchered cows, chickens, pigs and turkeys and at one point, butchered up to 1,000 turkeys a day.

Leonard also grew peas, beans, sweet corn, strawberries and gooseberries for a canning company in Onalaska, Wisconsin.

He always farmed organically, using natural products, crop rotation and soil conservation to sustain his farm.

When World War II came about, Leonard ramped up his production on vegetables, using his locker plant to store the produce and meat.

Shaved ice was packed with the meat and produce to keep the food fresh, and thus the company Sno Pac was born.

Into the future

The fifth generation is finding its footing in the company, as Gengler’s nephews and son are currently working at Sno Pac.

New ideas such as stand up bags of produce, instead of the pillow bags used now, may be in the works. There might even be a brand new product swirling around.

Sno Pac also continues to expand its technology to aide in processing foods. In 2013, the company purchased a food-sorting machine that uses laser technology to reject specific bits of vegetables that would not be consumable.

The machine can identify 300,000 colors and judge the density of a vegetable. It’s a big help when produce comes in during harvest season and employees are processing around the clock.

That piece of equipment was possible with the aid of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s (MDA) Livestock Investment and Value Added grants. Sno Pac was awarded $70,000 toward the machine’s cost of $362,000.

Sno Pac has also been a part of a University of Minnesota groundbreaking study on the effect of farming practices on weed seed survival in 2016.

The purpose of that study was to identify different colonies of microbes in the soil and to see if there was a certain combination of crop rotations or cover crops that develop bacteria that will degrade the weed seeds more than others.

Product line

Organic products include whole kernel corn, whole and cut green beans, green peas, mixed vegetables, sweet beans, butternut squash and cut leaf spinach.

Sno Pac also sells organic southern-style hash browns, regular hashbrowns, cottage fries, peas and carrots, broccoli cuts, tri-colored peppers, mixed vegetables, midwest soup mix, soycatash (a blend of corn, red peppers and shelled edamame), sweet beans, edamame and diced onions.

For fruit, they have organic blueberries, strawberries, whole cranberries, berry blend, raspberries and organic juice concentrates.

Check out their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SnoPacFoods, website at www.snopac.com, or contact them at 507-725-5281.