When Lawrence Foods, Inc. first moved into its new manufacturing plant at 2200 Lunt Avenue in Elk Grove Village's Centex Industrial Park in 1959, they were taking a calculated gamble.
Centex Park was still in its infancy. With only half-a-dozen other businesses as distant neighbors, Lawrence Foods was one of the original anchor tenants of the Village's venture into industry, which was surrounded by acres of farmland. Most of the company's employees lived in Chicago, and there were no major highways at the time to facilitate commuting and transportation.
Lester Lawrence, the company's current CEO and chairman, explains the reasoning behind the move. "My father, Major Lawrence conducted an evaluation that showed that Elk Grove Village was set to become a growing community that would support both business and residential sectors. We made the commitment to relocate there based on faith in that projected future."
Of course, Lawrence Foods' gamble paid off. Today, Elk Grove Village's convenient access to interstate highways and O'Hare International Airport have positioned the company well in shipping its products to commercial food manufacturers, wholesale bakeries, nationwide foodservice chains, and in-store supermarket bakeries across the country. Lawrence Foods' 170,000-square-foot facility employs approximately 250 workers, including a team of master bakers, food technologists, and chemists, who develop and produce the company's lines of cream and fruit fillings, glazes, icings, fondants, dry mixes, savory spreads, and nutrition bar ingredients.
The Company's history of embarking into new and evolving markets may be traced back to early in the last century when Major Lawrence's father, Lester, (the current CEO's grandfather and namesake) decided to leave eastern Europe.
"My grandfather was a Russian immigrant with a brief stopover in Great Britain and then a permanent move to Chicago where he set down roots and built his family. Although his original training was as a jeweler," says the younger Lester, he quickly became disillusioned with what he considered to be the dishonesty then prevalent in that line of work. He decided instead that since most everyone at that time relied on local bakeries, it made sense to build his future connected to this important business segment, and he began by delivering nutmeats and various other commodities on foot to bakeries along a section of Irving Park Avenue in Chicago."
Shortly after beginning high school, Lester's son, Major, joined the business making deliveries in the afternoon after school. By the 1940's, Major built the company's first ingredient manufacturing plant in Chicago, substantially expanded the products offered for sale, brought on a small fleet of trucks to expand in distribution throughout the city, and acquired a number of small ingredient distributors to further expand its business.
By the 1960s, after the move to Elk Grove Village, Lawrence Foods had become a major foodservice distributor in addition to a bakery ingredients manufacturer. In 1987, the Lawrences decided to sell the foodservice distribution business to mega-distributor Sysco Corporation, and to focus exclusively on manufacturing. The sale provided a supply relationship for the company, which continues today with Sysco.
"We were very successful at foodservice distribution for almost 30 years," Les explains, "but in time it became clear to us that we were running two separate businesses resulting in more operational challenges than synergies. As a consequence, the spin off provided distinct advantages and a simplification of the business that have contributed through the years to our national prominence."
With the arrival of Les's son Marc in 2005 as president, COO, and general counsel, Lawrence Foods entered its fourth generation of family ownership. Marc brought extensive experience in financial and legal backgrounds from his former career in law and banking, specializing in M&A (mergers and acquisitions) and corporate restructuring.
"We're very proud of the cultural values we have maintained thru the years as a family-owned business," says Marc. "They have been responsible for allowing our employees to develop a sense of personal ownership in the company and its success."
Marc credits this as a key element in keeping Lawrence Foods vibrant and robust during the recent recession. "All industries suffered in this most recent economic downturn, but we've learned through the years that necessity truly is the mother of invention," says Marc. "If you have good people willing to work hard, then the combination of cold sweat and high pressure challenges can represent the trigger for break-through success."
While Lawrence Foods' total line of bakery ingredients is wide-ranging, it specializes in cream and fruit fillings, icings, and glazes. Its most popular products are cake icing, doughnut glaze, retorted fruit fillings (hermetically sealed in pouches, pails and cans), and very technical components used in energy and nutrition bars called bar layers.
Lawrence Foods does not own interests in any agricultural processing plants or orchards, which makes it unique among many of its domestic and foreign competitors and allows it to purchase from the geographical regions offering the best quality fruit and other ingredients. Most of Lawrence Foods' ingredients (97%) are locally sourced, originating within about 300 miles of its
processing facility in Elk Grove Village.
Lawrence Foods stays abreast of changing trends in the food industry in order to create innovative new product concepts. "We're constantly coming out with new items because this industry changes very quickly," says Marc. "We track all of these changing trends to provide our customers with products that tap into consumers' changing preferences."
The company also continues a tradition that began with Major Lawrence, of keeping actively involved in the civic life of Elk Grove Village. "We're very pleased with our connection to Elk Grove, our ongoing links with its public officials, and our history of being one of its oldest continual taxpayers," says Les. "We continue to be impressed with successive Village administrations and how they've continued to foster an environment that makes Elk Grove welcoming and receptive to businesses."
The three descriptors on the company's current logo - Imaginative, Agile, and Proven - best sum up what makes Lawrence Foods unique, according to Marc. "'Imaginative' refers to our creativity in coming up with innovative products and solutions for customer challenges. 'Agile' reflects the company's ability to move more quickly and effectively than our competition, and 'Proven' refers to the experience we've gained and the success we've achieved over our 120-year history." "You don't stay around as long as we have," Les Lawrence agrees, "without doing something right."