OTTAWA — With nine cousins in the fourth generation helping operate Hirzel Canning Company & Farms, each has special talents and gifts brought to the table.
Director of Operations Karl Hirzel has an engineering background and put it to use as the food production business becomes more automated and technical.
The canning season lasts about 50 days in late summer and early fall, and all the family members are very hands-on to ensure quality products that meet the Hirzel family standards, Hirzel said. At this time of year, Karl has his engineering hat on, improving processes that were targeted during canning.
“There’s always something. Today I’m working on programming and rebuilding a machine and helping to lay out new lines. We are always developing new processes and equipment, which is fun. I touch all aspects of that,” Hirzel said.
The Ottawa plant is now a highly automated plant, and includes HMI — human machine interface — technology with touch screens, controls and equipment. The technology is impressive, but it can always be improved. Most of the time canning season is too busy to make a change, even when someone sees a need.
“We wait till down time to dig into deeper what we can modify,” Hirzel said.
Hirzel Canning Company was founded in 1923 by Karl’s great-grandfather, Carl R. Hirzel. A brewmaster by trade, he was forced into other products by Prohibition. His first product was sauerkraut, sold only in wooden kegs and barrels. The next year he began canning kraut, with the help of his wife, Lena, and oldest son, Karl. The third year they packed their first fancy whole tomatoes.
The company produces canned tomatoes, tomato products and sauerkraut in three processing locations under the brand Dei Fratelli and other private labels. The company owns extensive greenhouses and farms in northwest Ohio, including farms and a canning operation in Putnam County.
The family remains deeply involved in the business. Two of Hirzel’s father’s generation are still active in the company, with special projects. One of Hirzel’s uncles is involved in research and development for food and agriculture, and another is overseeing the company’s organic farming operations.