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Business makes chicken salad for the masses

Published: Saturday, May 31, 2014 1:00 a.m. CDT
(Danielle Guerra - dguerra@shawmedia.com)
Suter Company employees work at carton packing snack packs together on the line.
(Danielle Guerra - dguerra@shawmedia.com)
Forklift driver Jose Rodriguez drives a pallet of packs to be shipped from Suter Comapny in Sycamore to a big box store.
(Danielle Guerra - dguerra@shawmedia.com)
Anna Louisa Lopez, an employee at the Suter Company for eight years, works on the assembly line blister packing different snack packs of food.

SYCAMORE — Sarah Richied had no idea that every time she walks through the chip aisle at the Walmart in DeKalb, she passes by hummus made in her hometown of Sycamore.

But it's true: The Suter Company, at 258 May St. in Sycamore, makes the hummus for Great Value, Walmart's generic brand. Suter is a food-processing plant that makes and labels multiple products to send to major distributors.

"I get surprised regularly by the stuff that's made locally," Richied said.

The Suter Company has been manufacturing prepared food products since 1925, and they've been doing it from Sycamore since 1938. Tim Suter, president of The Suter Company, said only between 15 and 20 percent of their products are sold under their brand, Sycamore Farms, while the majority of the food they make goes to grocery store chains such as Walmart, Jewel, Aldi, Meijer and Sam's Club.

The company specializes in lunch foods such as chicken and tuna salads, dips, spreads and deviled eggs. They make enough food for over 100 million servings a year and are inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal Food and Drug Administration. Their products can be found in the United States and in Canada.

"Our focal point is not to build our own brand, but to build customer relationships to last more time," Suter said. "If that means packaging food under their brands, then so be it."

Company employees follow strict guidelines before they even start their work. Employees are required to wear lab coats, hairnets, gloves, slip-resistant shoes and earplugs. Jewelry is a no-no (no one wants to find an earring in their food) and they must wash their hands before they begin work.

The Suter Company has 175 employees and two plants: their main facility is on May Street, but their second plant is located at 1015 Bethany Road in Sycamore, said Alex Guedea, a quality assurance employee who also provides plant tours.

The May Street facility includes a room devoted to deviled egg distribution. There is also a room where chicken and tuna salads are made. X-ray machines are used to search for foreign objects in food before they are sent to a distributor.

One labeling machine is capable of labeling about 20 to 30 baskets per day. Each basket contains about 3,263 cans of tuna salad. Another labeling machine can label 10,000 cans of tuna salad per day, Guedea said.

"Everything needs somebody else to actually work it," Guedea said. "You would think it would all be generated on its own."

Louella Donovan, the company's current longest-serving employee with 40 years of service, remembers a time when employees used to boil chicken in what is now the room for egg production. She has seen many employees come through the doors, but she said the Suter family's kindness has always stayed the same.

"I've had a wonderful experience working with Tim and his dad," she said. "They really care."

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