`Subtle’ changes at Wolferman’s

Since buying the 111-year-old food cataloger Wolferman’s last March from Sara Lee Corp., Williams Foods has been an ideal corporate parent: It has supplied funds while keeping its administrative hands off.

Thus, with no changes in its corporate structure, the $20 million Wolferman’s – best known for its English muffins – was allowed to lay low in 1999 with a year of flat sales as it prepared to expand in 2000. “We’re trying to keep any changes subtle,” says director of direct marketing Ross Longendyke. And while Wolferman’s relocated from Lenexa, KS, to its parent company’s headquarters in Kansas City, MO, shortly after it was purchased, “we’re not promoting the fact that Williams owns us – just as we never advertised that Sara Lee owned us.”

“Subtle” does indeed describe the changes that are afoot. For instance, this spring Wolferman’s plans to explore catalog expansion into Canada. “We might test a list or two there,” Longendyke says. And after a year of flat circulation, the mailer will increase U.S. circulation 5% when it renews its prospecting efforts next fall/holiday, the period during which Wolferman’s does 80% of its business.

Meanwhile, the $60 million Williams Foods, whose primary business is manufacturing and distributing chili seasonings and sauce mixes, has started distributing Wolferman’s products in stores throughout Kansas City, most of which already sell Williams products. “We’re hoping to have national grocery distribution of Wolferman’s products within five years,” says Longendyke, who believes growth on the scale of a company like Pepperidge Farm isn’t out of question. Pepperidge Farm started as a mail order cookie business; the brand, of course, has since become a retail baking institution.

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