Filippini Is Right Ingredient

August 14, 2006
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HOLLAND — When it’s butter pecan day at the Hudsonville Creamery and Ice Cream Co. plant, the employees know who to go to for taste-testing.

Hudsonville President Ken Filippini admits he has a weak spot for right-off-the-line butter pecan ice cream, which has the consistency of soft-serve ice cream and is served in one of the many bowls located near the plant floor specifically for the purpose of testing and sharing.

Filippini said since becoming the president of Hudsonville Ice Cream in 2003, he has become known for both eating the sweet treat and giving it away. He jokes that everyone always knows what his family is going to bring to a potluck and told the Business Journal that his children are happy to trade “a dip for a dip” with their pool-owning neighbors.

“It’s just plain fun. We have a great time and a great product,” Filippini said of his job with the 111-year-old creamery. The creamery was started in 1895 as a co-op by a group of local farmers looking for a better way to sell their dairy products. It started making ice cream in 1926. The Hoezee family operated the company from 1946 to 2003, when they sold it to Holland’s Landmark Group.

“They were really looking for someone who could take the company and keep it here in West Michigan,” Filippini said of the Hoezees.

Filippini came to West Michigan in 1993 to work for the Prince family, former owners of Prince Corp., which is now Johnson Controls, on the revitalization of downtown Holland. That work followed his stint as finance director for WillowCreekCommunityChurch in Chicago

Filippini said he has had access to influential mentors throughout his career, beginning when he was a caddy at a Chicago golf course, which made him eligible for a Chip Evans Scholarship. The scholarship, which is specifically given to caddies, paid for his education at MarquetteUniversity. He said he also had mentors while he worked at the Willow Creek church, which several Chicago business leaders attended.

Because of his experiences, he said he believes it is important to mentor others.

“I just love to look for young business guys who would benefit from spending time (together),” he said.

Despite his experience in business and finance, Filippini had to learn about the ice cream business from scratch.

As a creamery that uses real sugar, cream and milk to make its ice cream, as well as ingredients such as real vanilla and pecan halves instead of bits, Filippini takes pride in the quality of the product and the consistency in taste, which he said comes from not changing the ingredients.

“Quality is the thing that’s most important to us, so we don’t cut corners,” he said. “We don’t change our formulas and recipes.”

The price of ingredients fluctuates and can sometimes become costly, Filippini said.

“We weather those commodity price changes,” he said. “I think that’s one of the things that makes us unique.”

Filippini said team members at Hudsonville Creamery are encouraged to think “outside the box” by the Sacagawea dollars each of them carries. He said the fact that the dollar coins are smooth while other coins are ridged, gold while others are silver, and a different size than most coins all are things that remind employees they have to be different in order to be successful.

There are also colorful, playful murals that greet workers as they enter the factory. Scenes of cows and polar bears decorate the walls.

“We wanted to remind our team members and all of our guests that we’re in a fun business,” he said.

Also along one company wall is a professional portrait of every employee, which is to remind them that everyone is a necessary part of the team. Filippini said the average tenure of the 19 employees is 17 years, including one employee who has worked there for 42 years.

“Our product is only as good as the people who make it,” he said.

It’s only as good as the facilities, as well, which are cheerily painted in colors that evoke thoughts of ice cream: chocolate brown, vanilla white, strawberry pink and sherbet orange. The year after Filippini became president, the company moved from Burnips — just outside Hudsonville — where it had been since 1948, to a new location at

345 E. 48th St.
in Holland. The new location, built in 1967, was gutted and refurbished before the company moved in. The new facility includes a freezer that freezes the ice cream as it travels throughout the room for two hours, vats that hold 8,000 gallons of milk and cream for up to 72 hours at 37 degrees, and a room that can hold 155,000 pounds of liquid sugar.

The company makes 3,000 half-gallons per hour and 2 million gallons a year, with about four flavors being made each day. Every spring the list of flavors, currently at 58, is reconsidered, new flavors are introduced, and “underappreciated” flavors are retired.

Filippini encourages employees to sample the ice cream in order to stay consistent with quality and taste.

“The guys have ice cream every day while they are here,” he said. “We know very accurately how close we are to the recipe.”

Quality is of utmost importance to Filippini, as it is where Hudsonville distinguishes itself from the competition.

“We can’t compete on price,” he said. “There’s always someone who can do it cheaper.”

Instead, Filippini said, Hudsonville focuses on creating a great, quality product and on getting more name recognition: The company’s first marketing campaign on billboards and radio ads focuses on the “Oh, so creamy” taste of the ice cream.

“We just wanted to get our name out there and say we’re still here,” he said.

Dell Hoezee, former owner of the company and now a consultant, said he believes Filippini has done a good job running the company that Hoezee and his brothers guided from 1976 to 2003.

“Ken is a wonderful guy, he brings a lot of knowledge in the business world,” he said. “He’s an excellent man with the employees and he’s just an all around good person.”

Hoezee said the ice cream business presents problems and challenges every day, but Filippini is handing it well.    

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