by Mike Miguez - found in Manitoba Business Magazine - May/June 2009
Who knew pickled vegetables could be so entertaining. Last summer when the small but unique Elman's Food Products advertised their single pickle snack it was a memorable moment. Sign boards bearing a large green pickle with a caption - "Bite Me" raised eyebrows and got attention. Millie Krause, the 60-year-old president of the small Jarvis Avenue vegetable pickling company created the ad herself.
"We received a lot of calls on it," she says. "It drew attention to our brand which is what we wanted."
With her daughter, Payton Krause, 42, Millie is reinventing Elman's Food Products through new labelling awakening the attention and taste buds of a new generation for pickled vegetables and other products. The company supplies products to both retail grocery stores and restaurants.
Krause took over the existing business five years ago when her partner, the colourful Manny Finkleman, her long time companion, died at the age of 84.
Says Krause, "I could have easily walked away from the company but we care about the business and we're going forward," she says.
Finkleman had taken over the company from his father in the late 1950s. The elder Finkleman started the business making horseradish in his basement and peddling it to hotels growing the company within the north end Jewish and European community. The business grew and would eventually supply supermarkets across western Canada.
In his final years, Krause says Manny still came into the office for a few hours daily. "His friends and acquaintances would come and visit regularly," she says.
Krause, who was willed the business by Finkleman is out going and personable. She says in the early days she worked for the company and she and Manny would go to super markets to hand out samples.
"It was a riot between the two of us," she says. "We were very enthusiastic about our product and continue to be," she says.
From its tidy plant on Jarvis Avenue, facing the Canadian Pacific north end railway yards, Elman's packages, labels and ships a range of pickled products. Pickled eggs, pickled beets, pickled vegetables, horseradish, gherkins, pickled garlic cloves, pickled herring and the popular Elman's pickles.
Elman's is well known deli name in Winnipeg. The name is a result of Manny switching the letters 'e' and 'l' in Finkleman using the last part of the name to create the brand.
Now, after all that time running the company, he has been immortalized on the new labelling as a black and white photo of him as a young Bogart-like figure in a double-breasted pinstriped suit.
"We felt the image was distinctive and at the same time it respected him," says Krause. "I still don't wear the title of president comfortably but it's getting easier."
While word of mouth advertising in the early Jewish community is what helped launch and support Elman's for many years, the company had a commitment to new labelling, fresh advertising and marketing practices which have enabled the company to prosper during a period of major adjustment and change.
Both Millie and Payton agree the biggest strategic move made in the last five years was addressing the issue of product labelling. The move was partly due to new government nutritional labelling regulations and partly because Elman's saw a need for more appealing, unified labelling.
Even though the Elman's name was there it was a different label for every product and on and on it went.
"There was no continuity in our product line. There was no connection. In today's marketplace branding is very, very important," she says.
"Our labels needed a new look," Millie says. "So we unified our identity so that all the products would have the same labels.
The new regulations and the new labels all came together at the same time.
"Because our product was in different locations in the supermarket based on refrigeration, we unified the labels to help customers recognize that the products where all from the same company. This rebranding improved customer awareness."
Millie's other daughter Sydney designed the new label design which features 'Manny' in the foreground and Winnipeg in the background.
"It's wonderful that it's his legacy that's moving along. In fact I have a neighbour who doesn't like to throw a jar out because she feels like she's throwing Manny out.
The Bite Me campaign, another marketing plan also hit the mark. When it first hit advertising billboards people were phoning the company just to express their delight in the punchy phrase. As a result, the caption went on the company truck along with the message 'Drink Pickle Juice'.
Another marketing venture which turned out to be quite popular came about as a result of a gift to a grieving family. Elman's put together a basket of product and sent them to a family who had lost a loved one.
"It turned out his family knew and loved our products," Millie says. "We had never made baskets before but we decided to try it."
The Elman's deli basket was advertised in a lifestyle magazine as "BYOB" - 'bring your own basket,' resulting in a new way to present the product.
Elman's 'single dill' pickle is another idea that has caught on during the past two years. The product, a large dill pickle in a sealed plastic bag, is available in selected Mac's convenience store locations.
Millie says, "Everybody's so busy running around they often grab a sandwich and go, well why not a pickle to go with it."
In addition to billboards and product packaging, Elman's has also advertised at trade shows, in trade magazines, newspaper, and some radio.
"Advertising works," Payton says. "It gets your name out there. Whether or not you can see exactly how much it made you over the course of the year, you just know it works."
Elman's new website – www.elmans.ca - has been an important move in opening up new avenues of exposure and advertising for the company.
Says Payton. "It's a communications strategy which exposes people to our products." One ingredient that has remained consistent over the period of change and adjustment is Elman's 10 regular staff and casual employees.
Payton says, "We would have been lost without them because they kept the company going while we were adjusting. They mean, everything to us."
In addition to the Winnipeg market Elman's products are available in grocery stores in Thunder Bay and have shelf space in supermarkets across western Canada.
"Every little bit has helped," Millie says.
"In fact, 2008 is the best year we've had in terms of gross sales. That is a really good indicator that we're continuing to move in the proper direction."