For five generations, members of the Van Gilst, De Bruin and Rozenboom families have made Iowa their home, living on neighboring farms and raising hogs and cattle. Within the past 10 years, though, the families have dramatically enhanced their farming operations. After forming Vande Rose Farms LLC, they moved from producers to direct marketers of Duroc pork and Hereford beef. In 2008, they took the next step and started processing their own beef and pork items.

“Our vision is to be the single-source supplier of all-natural, source-verified food products to upscale restaurants and retailers,” says Steve De Bruin, chief executive officer of Vande Rose Farms. Along with fresh Duroc pork and Hereford beef, the company also offers a variety of specialty items, most notably artisan ham and bacon, as well as sausages and snack items. Vande Rose Farms’ sales and distribution center is located in Des Moines, with the farms in Oskaloosa, about an hour away.

The company’s evolution from producers to producers and marketers began about a decade ago, during a particularly difficult time in the pork industry.

“Hogs were selling for about eight cents a pound,” De Bruin recalls. The company had been raising Duroc hogs since the late 1980s, when a study by the National Pork Producers Council named that breed as having superior meat quality, moisture retention and marbling. “We knew the Duroc breed had the attributes that were worth more than the marketplace was paying by traditional packers.”

Vande Rose Farms initially marketed its pork products in 2000 within Iowa before expanding to both coasts by 2004. Along with a growing retail and foodservice market, the company also attracted customers through its Web site,

“The first aspect of the site was to share information about the company, and it evolved into a deeper aspect for our customers to come and place their orders,” De Bruin says. In 2004, the site grew to accept orders from consumers, and that ecommerce section remains busy. This past summer, the company’s artisan bacon was featured on the Sunday Today show in a segment about where to find the best bacon. He says that in the weeks after that, Vande Rose Farms shipped more than 500 packages of bacon nationwide.

The company now has national distribution, selling into 23 states through more than 50 distributor customers. Its end-user customers are both high-end restaurants and retailers, primarily independent establishments. While it has some larger private label customers, De Bruin says Vande Rose Farms’ independent customers allow the company to have a more diverse, broader foundation of business.

The company has also expanded into the retail business itself with the launch of Vande Rose Farms Meat & Fish Market, located in Granite Bay, Calif.

“We opened that store in the spring in 2007, and we are working with developers into franchising that particular store and placing it in more developing centers,” De Bruin says. The California market is a very important one for Vande Rose Farms, as there are many stores that fit its business profile. De Bruin attributes the West Coast market for allowing the company to grow to where it is today.

“That’s what helped the brand develop the reputation that it has, and then the East Coast picked up, and then Florida, Texas and our other markets,” he adds.


Intro to processing

Vande Rose Farms, prior to entering the processing world, had eight different co-packers around the country making its pork and beef products.

“We were sending trucks in a lot of different directions to make our items,” De bruin says. “In doing that, we had a great product line, but our efficiency is where we were a little bit challenged.”

One of those co-packers was Triple T Specialty Meats, located nearby in Ackley, Iowa. It was a federally inspected processor with a successful retail business selling to Fareway stores in Iowa. Vande Rose Farms began to send more and more of its raw product to Triple T for processing.

“When we find a relationship that works well, we try to cultivate it,” De Bruin says. “We were making more and more of our products at their plant, to the point that most of their plant time was making products for Vande Rose Farms.”

Jolene Heikens, president and chief executive officer of Triple T, and De Bruin began having conversations about the future. The acquisition was completed this year, and Jolene Heikens, president and chief executive officer of Triple T, became vice president of Midwest sales at Vande Rose Farms.

The Ackley plant is now used to produce all of the company’s specialty items, including the ham and bacon, as well as ham salad and sausage. Several of Triple T’s retail products are still being produced, as the addition of that retail business has boosted Vande Rose Farms’ retail presence.

“We’re currently about 70 percent foodservice and 30 percent retail,” De Bruin explains. “We want to go to a 50-50 mix, and that’s part of the reason for the acquisition of Triple T.”

Additionally, the company acquired a smaller facility in nearby Wellsburg that is used for roaster/suckling pig processing center. It was originally a traditional butcher store, and Vande Rose Farms retrofitted it for the new processing. The suckling and roaster pigs market has been growing, particularly in the growing ethnic market and catering industries. All total, the company now has approximately 65 employees, with 15 people in Wellsburg, 30 in Ackley and 15 in Des Moines and the sales team.

“We’ve moved all the co-packing relationships into these facilities right in our backyard,” De Bruin says. “We have more quality control. We can be in the plants and have a culture that binds with our culture here and in Oskaloosa. It’s just streamlined everything.”

The addition of the new plants has given Vande Rose Farms the quality control it’s desired. Each plant runs double shifts, and De Bruin has regular meetings with the production manager, the plant manager and the shift supervisors to address everything that is happening in the plants.

“We know the future of our business is going to be in the cured and smoked items,” De Bruin says, “and these specialty value-added processing facilities are the ones that are going to create the products that build the brand. That’s why we needed the quality control.”

De Bruin credits the company’s management team for the transition from a marketer to a processor, noting that everyone has risen to the challenge of keeping the company successful and moving forward.

Family ties

With a background in producing, Vande Rose Farms is quick to work with other experts to help create the best possible products. De Bruin acknowledges that the company’s background is not in recipe development, so it utilizes numerous chefs to help develop new items. He says the company goes through 40 to 60 recipes per product before it’s released.

“We go through a very stringent tasting and testing of our recipes before we really sign off on it,” he says. “We don’t release a product until it’s been approved by a variety of chefs and our customers.”

Vande Rose Farms launched its Artisan line of products in 2005, promoting bacon and ham processed in the old-fashioned way. They are smoked over real applewood chips and have been popular products since their launch. An Artisan sausage line is expected to be released next year. The company has approximately 150 SKUs in total.

The key decisions are handled by the company’s board of directors, consisting of eight family members. De Bruin handles the marketing side of the business, while the others — his father, brother, uncle and cousins — are still actively involved on the production side in Oskaloosa.

“That helps fuel the supply of what we have to sell,” he says. “There’s a real mutual respect for what we each do.”

All of the company’s Duroc pork products come from the family’s own stock, but the Hereford beef market has grown to the point that the company is buying animals from outside growers. That beef line is another relatively recent development, having been introduced in 2006.

Hereford fits the marketplace very well, because a lot of our competition is selling Angus,” De Bruin says. The cattle also perform very well on the farm and have finer meat fibers and tenderness than other breeds. Vande Rose Farms’ pork and beef products are marketed and sold as all-natural, but the primary focus has been on the breed and its consistent taste and favorable attributes. Being breed specific has helped the company stand out from the competition, as there are very few breed-specific or source-verified brands in the all-natural category.

With a solid business in pork and beef items, Vande Rose Farms’ management took the next step by forming Source Verified Foods in 2007. That company’s vision, De Bruin says, is to be a “signature supplier of source-verified, all-natural, high-quality meat and food products to upscale retail operations and foodservice markets.” He says that having source-verified foods is a security for consumers, who want to know where their food came from.

Vande Rose Farms is the featured supplier, but it will also market other brands through Source Verified Foods.

“Right now, our focus is on pork and beef, but we’re talking to lamb companies, chicken companies and some other species as well,” De Bruin says. “We want to be a platform to market other source-verified meat items, so be a one-stop shop for our customers for a lot of different source-verified food items.”