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Meet the Producer: Tim Metzger, Metzger Specialty Brands

A Farmer in Manhattan
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Tim Metzger of Metzger Specialty Brands talks about picking a brand name, marketing changes and the surprising success he found with all-natural maraschino cherries.

How did your brand Tillen Farms come about?

I began working with Hogue Cellars back in the late 1980s to market two SKUs of asparagus and beans that were growing like weeds near the grapes that they used for their wine. Fast forward about 13 years, I purchased the brand. I had always desired my own business and jumped at the opportunity. I’m extremely fortunate that since day one, the packer used a special blanching and chilling technique with minimal heat exposure. The vegetables were firm and crisp despite being shelf stable, which made the product distinctive. I changed the brand name in 2005 and slowly expanded the range to our current line of ten free-standing products.

How did you choose the name?  

My packaging designer suggested taking an acronym and creating a name that sounds real. Tillen became an acronym of my name, Tim, and the names of my wife, Helen and my daughter, Jill, without whose support I couldn’t have done what I’m doing. Also, since day one at Metzger Specialty Brands, I’ve been blessed with a colleague, Patricia Pietzak, with whom I worked for nine years in my previous job. While we may be known for our products, it’s the people who ultimately make a business work.

The NASFT has also been instrumental in helping me grow my business with expanded networking opportunities. NASFT management is committed to the success of its members and is one group with which I’m proud to have been associated.

How difficult was it to change the name?

It was pretty easy. We kept the same labels but just changed H on the logo, which stood for Hogue, to the T for Tillen. We didn’t recall product, we just rolled out the products with the new label. What was a key factor was that we kept the same UPC code so we didn’t lose any distribution.

Have you had any surprising successes?

We looked at the lowly maraschino cherry and worked on a clean recipe with no preservatives, no artificial dyes, flavors or corn syrup. The cherries have become a fantastic seller and now we’ve expanded that range to foodservice.  

Any current marketing changes?

As we speak, I’m fine-tuning the label on our number-one-selling asparagus to highlight that it has only 60 calories in an entire jar so that our customers know that they can feast without guilt.

Where is Tillen Farms based?

All of our products are grown in the Pacific Northwest but we are based in Manhattan. I get teased about Tillen Farms running out of an office in New York City, but I always vowed that if I ever got my own business, I would walk to work, and I can. But there are jokes every time I go out to Washington State.

If you knew it were your last meal, what would you eat?

I’d go for my all-time favorite dish, and one which would also honor my father and grandfather, a classic seafood paella with lots and lots of sangria. Frozen yogurt for dessert!Susan Segrest

Susan Segrest is a contributing editor to foodspring.com and has also written for Marie Claire, the New York Daily News and Prevention.


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