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Silver Spring Extends Its Roots by Acquiring Competitor

Eau Claire-based horseradish business adds solar array, stays nimble amid pandemic

Tom Giffey

FAMILY ROOTS. Silver Spring Foods President Eric Rygg and his family stand by a newly installed solar array at Huntsinger Farms outside Eau Claire. Silver Spring is the largest grower and processor of horseradish in the world. (Submitted photos)
FAMILY ROOTS. Silver Spring Foods President Eric Rygg and his family stand by a newly installed solar array at Huntsinger Farms outside Eau Claire. Silver Spring is the largest grower and processor of horseradish in the world. (Submitted photos)

What could have been a disappointing year for Huntsinger Farms has turned into a successful and notable one for the Eau Claire-based purveyor of horseradish and other food products. Known far and wide for its Silver Spring Foods brand of horseradishes, mustards, and other condiments, Huntsinger Farms was scheduled to host thousands of visitors this July during Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, the state’s biggest agribusiness expo.

Unfortunately, like nearly every other large event this year, Farm Technology Days 2020 was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic; Huntsinger Farms will host the event next summer instead (July 20-22, 2021, to be precise). And, like every other business, Silver Spring Foods faced big challenges as a result of the pandemic, which caused major shifts in customer demand, said President Eric Rygg.

“We’re a family business. We’re long-term oriented, we’re rooted here in Eau Claire.” –Eric Rygg, president, Silver Spring Foods and Huntsinger Farms

And yet Silver Spring, like the hardy roots it harvests, has managed to thrive in 2020, further cementing its status of the world’s largest grower and processor of horseradish. The first big headline for the company was its recently announced acquisition of Brede Foods, a competing horseradish firm based in Detroit, Michigan. Like Huntsinger Farms – which was founded in 1929 by Rygg’s great-grandfather, Ellis Huntsinger – Brede Foods was a family-owned business with its own popular horseradish label (in this case Farmers Brand, which was sold throughout the Midwest and Northeast). Its owner, Mike Brede, wanted to retire and contacted Silver Spring last year to see if they were interested in buying his company.

The horseradish harvest.
The horseradish harvest.

“We were pretty honored that he reached out to us first,” said Rygg, who explained that the two companies had been “friendly competitors” in the past. When the deal closed in March, it gave Silver Spring ownership of Brede’s brands, access to more than 1,000 new retailers, and a 12% increase in its horseradish supply.

The latter fact is critical: In 2019, the late, snowy winter made planting and harvesting horseradish difficult and led to a nationwide shortage. Rygg was left providing customers with less horseradish than they wanted to buy. “‘What kind of horseradish company are you running over there if you don’t have any horseradish?’” Rygg recalled customers asking. “And they had a good point,” he added.

The acquisition of Brede Foods’ supply (much of which comes from Illinois), in addition to better growing conditions this year, should put Silver Spring in a good position, Rygg said. “I’m hoping that in the future we’ll be set up well and we’ll be more diversified, so we won’t face shortages again,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic also caused big changes for Silver Spring’s sales this year. While widespread stay-at-home orders shuttered its food service and industrial clients, retail and online sales of Silver Spring products soared (the latter by a whopping 123%). “As people have been forced to eat at home, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in interest on how to use our horseradish and mustard products to bring more flavor to their cooking,” Rygg said, adding that the trend likely will continue.

And if increased retail and online sales were the silver lining to the COVID-19 cloud, Silver Spring is also looking skyward for another reason: The company recently installed a 288-panel solar array on its farm just south of Eau Claire. The solar field is expected to meet about 18% of Huntsinger Farms’ energy needs, and is part of the company’s overall sustainability efforts.

“We’re a family business,” Rygg said. “We’re long-term oriented, we’re rooted here in Eau Claire.”

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