The biggest little guy in cranberries
Butch Gardner becomes major player in world market
By Kris Leonhardt
PITTSVILLE — Wayne “Butch” Gardner purchased his first business the day he graduated from Pittsville High School.
“I got out of high school and bought the original farm in the summer of ‘71,” recalled Gardner. “It was about a 120-acre farm, and I converted the dairy barn over to a pig barn and raised pigs while I was farming with my dad on a neighboring farm.
“We bought a Redi-Mix plant in ‘79, and we started hauling cranberries that fall. That is how we got into cranberry hauling.”
Gardner bought a few trucks and began hauling paper for a Wisconsin Rapids paper mill while continuing to farm.
Established as Gardner Trucking, he then began hauling cranberries for Ocean Spray.
In 1987 Gardner purchased the Pittsville Fur Foods business and converted it into a cheese cooler and began storing cheese and cranberries there the following year.
“We built our first cooler out on the farm in ‘92, and that year we planted our first two 1.5-acre cranberry beds, my brother and I,” said Gardner. “In ‘96 we put up our first freezer and cranberry cleaning station so we could custom clean for independent cranberry growers.”
Over the next years, Gardner continued expanding both the company’s facilities and his cranberry growing operations. In 2004 Gardner added a juice plant and brought a cranberry concentrate operation online one year later.
“We started processing cranberry concentrate for independent bottlers, i.e. Cliff Star and Clement Papas,” added Gardner. “They are both private label bottlers. Cliff Star does all of Wal-Mart’s bottling, and Clement Papas does Dollar Store, Walgreen’s, and IGA.
“Everything from Wisconsin west started out in our freezer/cranberry concentrate processing facility and continues to this day.”
According to the Wisconsin Cranberry Growers Association, approximately 75 percent of the world’s cranberries come from the United States, and 62 percent come from Wisconsin.
Soon Gardner was into the international market, selling overseas to Germany and other countries spanning the globe.
Once in the bottler’s hands, the concentrate is then blended with other flavors.
“We just sell the concentrate, and then it gets blended and bottled and private labeled,” Gardner explained.
Gardner next added a facility to process sweet and dried cranberries in 2012. The new product was introduced the following year and immediately entered the international market to go along with the concentrate.
Today, Gardner continues to augment his facilities and his cranberry growing operations, which now consist of over 1,900 acres of cranberry marshes.
“We are the largest independent processor of cranberry juice concentrate and SDCs (sweet and dried cranberries) in the country,” said Gardner. “We’ll custom process approximately 50 million pounds into cranberry concentrate and SDCs on a yearly basis — and growing.”