Koeze Nut Company
Koeze Company was founded in Grand Rapids in 1910. The company has been making their famous Cream-Nut peanut butter using the same technique and equipment type for over 90 years. Their product line also includes gourmet nuts, candies, popcorn, and tortilla chips. A new partnership with Schuil will soon add coffee to their Knapp’s Corner retail store as well.
Those partnerships build on a long-standing tradition of supporting a community that is part of “The Koeze Way.” Ben Zorn, Vice President of Operations, talked with us about the company’s many volunteer experiences, including at the Kids’ Food Basket Farm and with the City of Wyoming Parks Department. “Getting people from the team together outside of their day-to-day roles is important. We get to see a new side of people while we are giving back. That makes us stronger as a team, because people see the value of being active in the community.” They have increased their community engagement and built in more opportunities for fun work activities in the past few years, because it meant continuing Koeze Co.'s connection with the people it serves. It also had an added benefit in lowering company turnover. “When company culture is this strong, people tend to stay,” Ben shared.
As a testament to company culture and employee longevity, Ben mentioned that six employees retired in the past two years, taking with them a combined 200+ years of experience. Those technical positions have been hard to fill. Koeze Co. has noticed that the workforce interested in entry level positions is starting to pick back up. They use several temporary agencies and have had success with temp to hire. The company employs around 40 year-round workers and brings in another 80 seasonal workers in the fall. “A lot of seasonal workers come back year after year,” Ben said.
When asked what the year-round roles look like, Ben shared, “Like other small companies, we have nontraditional job descriptions. Someone in HR can cover retail support, while someone in accounting helps IT.” They are always looking for people who are flexible and willing to learn multiple areas and who have a positive attitude. “A lot of our employees utilize the education benefits we offer,” he said. One example of the training staff is offered is English as a Second Language classes in partnership with the Literacy Center of West Michigan. Everyone in the organization is involved in continuous improvement, whether they are year-round or seasonal. The mindset is everyone is treated the same, and they all feel like they are a part of the quality of the company.
Koeze Company has been around for over 112 years, but they pay attention to what is coming next to stay strong. “Retirements will continue to be a challenge,” Ben told us. “Regulation and the use of technology will continue to increase, driving the need for more skilled workers for the industry.” The focus on community, team, and continuous improvement won’t change at Koeze Co. Like Cream-Nut, when you find a recipe that works, you don’t change it.