By Sarah Keech
Photos by Matt Wong
If you’re anything like me, you’ve loved Beaver Brand mustards and horseradish products for a long time. But, did you know they’re all produced in the Portland area? Did you know the entire company came out of the trials and tribulations of a young mother just trying to survive the Great Depression?
I was recently invited to tour Beaverton Foods, and learning the history and visiting the spot where these quality products are made has certainly made me a lifelong fan…well, it really didn’t take too much convincing!
Times were tight in 1929 in Beaverton, Oregon, so when Rose Biggi needed to put food on her family’s table, she became resourceful. She ground and bottled horseradish from her family’s farmland and traded it for local butcher’s meat to use in her spaghetti sauce.
A few years later, Rose had a chance meeting with Eve Meyer, the wife of Fred G. Meyer, who at the time was just opening up his first supermarket in downtown Portland. Rose began selling her horseradish at the new Fred Meyer store, which was no small feat as, at that time, traveling to downtown Portland from Beaverton was an all day journey and there were no paved roads. (And you thought travelling on Highway 26 was bad!)
Those small initial endeavors have evolved into what is now Beaverton Foods, the largest specialty condiment producer in the United States.
Rose’s son, Gene Biggi, now 83, is the current president and the driving force behind the company’s expansion in the condiment market, but growing this specialty company took many years and many, many taste tests to get to where it is now.
Gene initially expanded the business by creating the company’s first mustard, which all came about while he was on a date with his girlfriend at a Chinese food restaurant in Beaverton when he was only 19. Inspired by the flavor the restaurant’s hot mustard, Gene asked the chef how it was made and then set out to recreate the product in a more consumer-friendly manner. The resulting product, Hot Chinese Mustard, took two to three years for him to develop and perfect, and it can still be found in stores today.
With a keen eye for what his customers are looking for, Gene is also responsible for the first gourmet Sweet and Hot Mustard made in the U.S., and first Honey Mustard to be made and sold anywhere.
A constant innovator, Gene is credited as one of the first in the condiment marketplace to realize the importance of using plastic squeeze bottles instead of glass in the bottling process to ensure safety, freshness and ease of use for his customers.
The Company Today
More than 80 years and four generations later, the company remains loyal to its Washington County roots and business is thriving. Beaverton Foods is the corporate umbrella for many of the condiment brands you see in your grocery store and restaurants, including Beaver Brand and Inglehoffer. In fact, their products can be found in 98 percent of grocery stories in the U.S.
The business remains controlled by the Biggi family, with Gene’s son, Domonic, is the Executive Vice President and his grandson, Jeffrey, serves as the Food Service Manager.
Innovation and an eye for the future are still very important to their business. Some of their latest products to hit the market directly incorporate a growing food trend: bacon. But unlike similar bacon condiments (i.e., bacon mayonnaise), their products are healthier (low in fat, cholesterol and calories), yet the bacon flavor is bold.
Beaverton Foods is also taking on a new product line, authentic wasabi. In December 2010, the company purchased Pacific Farms of Florence to expand into the real wasabi market—which is very rare outside of Japan. With wasabi, the company added new equipment to their facility for processing and they hope to increase their wasabi sales as the national sushi trend continues to flourish.
The company employs about 80 people at their Hillsboro manufacturing plant, and the Biggis are pleased that even through the tough days of our recent recession they never had to lay anyone off.
The Biggi family and Beaverton Foods certainly exemplify Oregon’s pioneer spirit that hard work, ingenuity and innovation do pay off.
So let us know: What’s your favorite Beaverton Food product?