Kellogg Garden Products focuses its growth plan on organic soil

Kathy Kellogg Johnson is a third generation floor producer.

Kathy Kellogg Johnson set aside most of her Fridays to write a book on Kellogg’s Supply Inc. that operates as Kellogg Garden Products, a Carson-based garden soil company that her grandfather founded nearly 100 years ago.

She has interviewed employees, some of whom have been with the company for more than 50 years, and scanned old photos and notes that provide a glimpse into the dynamism that helped the company weather and thrive through the Great Depression and World War II, how her father took it over in the 1950s.

“I feel like I’m securing the company so it can pass into the fourth generation,” said Kellogg Johnson, who serves as chairman and company secretary.

Looking to the future, Kellogg Johnson noted that the company faces challenges as state tax laws make it “difficult” to change companies when founders die and are taken over by future generations.

“For example leaves. They fall to the ground, they protect the ground, and we have this ill-conceived (notion) that we’ll have to bag them up and send them to a landfill in non-decomposable plastic bags (where) I can find them 20 years later, just this adds to that mountain that used to be a beautiful canyon, “said Kellogg Johnson, adding that an alternative approach is to mix the leaves with animal manure to regenerate the soil, which gives plants” higher nutrient density and greater resilience against diseases ”. ”

“That was our generation – grandfather for dad, for my brother and me and our children – the foundation of who we are, what we do, why we are passionate about it, and the people who work for us are passionate about it Recovery of organic materials. “She added.

Fertile soil

The company’s story begins with Kellogg Johnson’s grandfather, Hiram Clay Kellogg Sr., a professional surveyor, who noticed a lush tomato grove on a river bank in the Inland Empire, an unusual sight given the area’s desert-friendly climate. He realized that the plants thrived on organic debris that trickled into the ground from nearby cattle ranches.

He developed a similar soil mix and tested it on the orange trees in his garden and found that they produced four times more fruit than in his previous harvests. He called the product Nitrohumus and began selling it to farmers in 1925. But it wasn’t an easy sale at first.

“In the 1920s, the textbooks of the day said that … there is no way you can really revive and grow your crops once the field is fallow, you just move to another property,” said Kellogg Johnson. “Well, Grandpa turned that on its head because he started using the nitrohumus. … His thinking really went far beyond his years. “

In 1928, he signed a contract with the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County to collect biosolids produced near Bixby Marsh in Carson. The contract helped Kellogg supply orange growers with nitrohumus and lasted well into the 1960s.

In 1955, Kellogg Sr. acquired Globe Fertilizer Co. which enabled it to reach the home horticultural consumer. He also worked with several well-heeled commercial clients, including Walt Disney, for whom he helped formulate a soil mix that would preserve tropical plants that adorn Disneyland’s jungle book ride. Nitrohumus also fueled the flora at Hearst Castle in San Simeon and the Getty Center in Brentwood, as well as on the playing fields at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Dodger Stadium, among others.

Kellogg Sr.’s son, Hiram Clay Kellogg Jr., joined the company as president in 1957, but the two did not always agree.

“Your transition was not a smooth one,” said Kellogg Johnson. “It’s not that (Kellogg Sr.) didn’t think much of his son for his abilities. My father was a great person.

People genuinely loved him for taking his shirt off a trucker’s back and handing it to him, or for a loan with no paperwork and no repayment. He had very different abilities than his father, who was a businessman. “

They argued mainly over which direction the company should take, with the elder Kellogg fighting for the status quo while his son wanted to expand the product offering and introduce plant foods, mulch and bark.

Kellogg Jr. prevailed with his wife Janice by his side. The former teacher joined the company as Vice President in 1982 and was in charge of the reins after the sudden death of her husband in 1987. The company then employed around 60 people and had sales of around 10 million US dollars.

Janice Kellogg remained in office until 1992, when her son Hiram Clay Kellogg IV, Hap for short, took over the presidency and daughter Kellogg Johnson became company secretary.

“I had a degree from USC and a degree in finance, French and Spanish, and wanted to get into forex trading, but I knew my mother needed me,” she said. “I quit my job thinking this was a temporary job, I’m just going to sort out a few things and go back, but then I was really hooked.”

Growth factors

The company, now with 230 full-time employees, continued to grow under the supervision of the siblings, with sales of $ 55 million in 2005 and “north of $ 100 million in 2020,” according to Kellogg Johnson. Notable victories along the way in 2018 included “a sweet moment” she and her brother “enjoyed” when the company’s bottom line surpassed the highest turnover her father had ever made.

Kellogg Garden products are sold at major hardware stores – such as Home Depot and Lowes – as well as more than 1,000 independent nurseries across the country.

Headquartered in Carson is Organic Control Inc., a subsidiary that sells live insects such as ladybugs and praying mantises that feed on garden pests.

Over the years, the siblings have expanded the company’s processing facility presence to include Ontario in the Inland Empire; Lockeford near Sacramento; and Longview, Washington, while a fourth facility is under construction in Toledo, Washington.

“The rest of the country is served through co-pack agreements with local companies,” said Kellogg Johnson. “In Texas, for example, there are three companies similar to ours that package bark. We work with them on our formulations and have them produced, palletized and delivered to Home Depot in every corner of the country. “

Kellogg Garden also changed the composition of its soils and fertilizers by 2012, replacing bio-solids with locally collected turkey litter and chicken and ox dung. The move allowed the company to meet very strict federal organic standards, and its products are registered with the California Department of Agriculture’s organic input material review as well as the standards of the Organic Materials Review Institute, an independent independent review. Agency.

“OMRI brought a really excellent certification,” she said. “They follow pretty much from the back of the cow to the sack and are then welcome 24 hours a day, seven days a week in any registered plant.”

Today, Kellogg Garden – which competes with Ohio-based ScottsMiracle-Gro Co. – is struggling with the rising cost of raw materials and pallets that support its bags of product. To add fuel to the fire is an Amazon warehouse that opened near its Ontario facility that pays mechanics double what Kellogg Garden can afford.

Kellogg Johnson finds solace in being a private company that is not about
“‘Oh, I have to do another nickel, bottom line,’ but there’s … a long-term focus on ‘what’s this going to do in 50 years’ time,” she said.

She also values ​​the “total trust” she shares with her brother Hap.
“While we may disagree about how to proceed, we both know we want to move forward and we both know it’s for the good of the company,” she said.

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