A new reality is shaped by every decision. Going right rather than left can determine a new destiny upon which everything forward is built. In the case of one choice, a culture was forged and a beacon lit—a Litehouse.
“If we had sold to a big conglomerate, it’s very likely that it would have moved our team and our manufacturing facilities, and created a hole in our communities in the process. By investing in the company itself and becoming employee-owned, we created a different future,” Camille Balfanz, Director of Brand Management for Litehouse Foods, reflects as she takes me with her down memory lane. “Our Founders, Doug and Edward (Junior) Hawkins, are still around since they began selling freshly made 16 oz jars of Litehouse Bleu Cheese dressing in 1963. One of them is even still on the Board. But, now that we’re employee-owned, we’re writing our own future, actively looking to solve problems for the consumer, and bringing forward new offerings to continue building upon our success.”
As someone with a deep appreciation for having the pen in hand, I gravitate to how Camille explains the shift in a company’s drive when the employees are literally put behind the wheel—to see each step directly impact every person as Litehouse invests and reinvests in its own.
"By investing in the company itself and becoming employee-owned, we created a different future."
-Camille Balfanz, Director of Brand Management, Litehouse Foods
“It has been really special to see how that shift in ownership created a new culture for us at Litehouse. We are all empowered to think and act like Owners, sparking the innovation and great ideas to move our company forward. It has truly been a game-changer for this company to be employee-owned and create our own future,” Camille shares.
And success breeds success. Like a keeper tending to the lantern, Litehouse saw returns on new products and offerings build its own flame, encouraging the team to focus and bolster research and development (R&D) to further seek innovative solutions and portfolio differentiation.
“We are constantly watching trends to ensure we are bringing products to market within a continuous time frame, staying ahead of the curve and keeping relevant,” Camille tells me, explaining that, at any given time, Litehouse is taking the consumer pulse, watching demands spike, and creating and curating products to meet what it is finding.
As someone also keeping a constant vigil, I couldn’t help but ask how the team keeps up its commitment in the race against time—because, truly, I never run into a member of the Litehouse team that doesn’t seem to be bubbling with contagious energy.
“That’s a really good question,” Camille says, and I can hear the smile in her voice. “And just like we have an R&D team, we’ve got a market research team out there supporting our retailers with category management, data, consumer insights, shelf sets, and beyond. Then, in the same frame, we’re hearing from our R&D team and our suppliers that they work with, sharing what they’re seeing. Like a big puzzle, we map out how all these things come together daily, monthly, annually.”
Deep breath. Even just listening to the process has the cogs of my mind spinning sparks as they work to keep up.
“We also have a Food Service and Ingredient side of the business,” Camille continues. “Prior to and throughout COVID-19, that segment has been really beneficial as we get insights from restaurants on what is popular, and then we create our marketing and product development strategies around those insights.”
Naturally, as we are still settling into a new year, the first thing I have to follow up with is what Litehouse is currently eyeing, and Camille points out that it’s flexible.
“A big insight is that many consumers are trying to become more flexitarian instead of extreme vegan—and they’re doing it for a variety of reasons. They could be environmental, they could be ethical, or there could be health reasons. So, we’re really targeting more of the flexitarian rather than the strict vegan,” Camille shares of the latest turn in Litehouse’s product strategy.
In fact, a brand new line is hitting the salad case that will directly target this very demand channel.
“Green Garden, our new brand positioned to empower people to choose plant-based, planet-friendly foods easily every day, is launching in April,” Camille reveals, adding that it will be more than just a product line. “We’re launching into three categories: dressings, dips, and mayo. Our mission was to create great-tasting, non-GMO, plant-based products in flavors our consumers know and love from a brand founded on transparency and sustainability. We know consumers are constantly evolving and changing, and so we’re always looking to them to figure out what the next thing on the horizon will be.”
This brings us back to that quick-footed culture we began with—to constant consumer research, information collection, and strong in-house creativity that is ready and willing to turn on a dime.
“We owe so much to our award-winning R&D team, with certified food scientists that help us develop these great products,” Camille says. “They, along with our research and marketing teams, are who help us stay ahead of the trends and identify what’s coming. They’re constantly recapping—monthly, quarterly, et cetera—to say, ‘Here’s what is really important and what you want to get your eyes on,’ and it’s been crucial to the loyal following we have built.”
"We are all empowered to think and act like Owners, sparking the innovation and great ideas to move our company forward. It has truly been a game-changer for this company to be employee-owned and create our own future."
That loyalty, Camille points out, is the strongest proof of all for the success of a product, and the team has seen its reception on the rockiest cape of today’s market. After all, where are any of us bravest about our opinions?
“Something that’s been really cool is people sharing and posting organically on social media—seeing how many, for example, use a 20 oz Homestyle Ranch, which is the number one item in refrigerated salad dressing according to IRI MULO. That’s been really eye-opening for us,” Camille continues. “We’ve seen social media debates about the best salad dressing, and there are people out there defending our brand. When it’s coming from your audience and not your team, you begin to feel you are really making an impact.”
And with brand awareness comes a loyalty that cannot be oversold. Even so, Camille says there is further to go for the Litehouse brand.
“It is exciting to see the Litehouse logo gaining recognition and a true following, but we continue to strive for stronger household penetration and even more product diversity,” Camille reflects. “But we are staying true to who we are as we do so and growing as we always have—organically.”
After all, with each decision comes an opportunity to write a new destiny—an adventure made even more tempting when guided by the illumination of a Litehouse.