Rich Olenius, 63, climbs into in his delivery truck after carefully reviewing his daily customer list and inventory at The Schwan Food Co.’s depot in Richland, Wash. (pop. 38,708). Satisfied that his deliveries are in order, Olenius, a Schwan’s driver of 13 years, departs the depot at 8 a.m.
“I make about 120 stops a day, sometimes coming back to the home if the customer isn’t there,” says Olenius, who follows a planned route that allows him to visit each customer once every two weeks. “It’s important to be consistent with the schedule because you become like part of the family and people expect you.”
One customer that’s come to expect Olenius is Vicki Romine, who has welcomed the cheerful driver and his food deliveries into her home for the last 10 years.
“Rich is a wonderful driver who’s always here on time and makes sure to have what I need,” Romine says. Of course, she also enjoys “both the food and the convenience of the delivery.”
Olenius is carrying on a company tradition that dates back to March 18, 1952, when Marvin Schwan packed his 1946 Dodge panel van with 14 gallons of ice cream from his family’s dairy business to visit other farm families around Montevideo, Minn. (pop. 5,346). By the end of the day, Schwan had sold all of his ice cream, creating a business model that would give rise to what has become The Schwan Food Co.
Marvin’s brother Alfred Schwan recalls his brother’s decision to branch out. “Marvin was a partner in the business, but felt he needed to do more than work in the dairy,” says Alfred, who serves as Schwan’s chairman of the board. “So he loaded up his truck and the rest is history.”
The business has grown substantially since Marvin, who died in 1993 at age 64, made that first delivery. Along with its home delivery service, Schwan’s manufactures and distributes familiar brands such as Freschetta Pizza, Red Baron Pizza, Tony’s Pizza, Asian Sensations, Mrs. Smith’s Pies and Edwards Pies to supermarkets from plants in Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas. Headquartered in Marshall, Minn. (pop. 12,735), The Schwan Food Co. also has international facilities that produce and distribute frozen pizza and pasta in Canada, England, France and Germany.
But for most customers, it’s the familiar gold-colored delivery truck adorned with a swan that has become synonymous with the company. Today, Schwan’s has more than 7,000 drivers delivering frozen foods to homes in 48 states from more than 500 depots. Customers can place orders online, or via telephone, after choosing their favorite foods, such as frozen fruits and vegetables, steak and seafood, from the Schwan Meal-Time Catalog, which is updated four times a year.
“The catalog makes it simple,” says Barb Swears, a 20-year customer from Richland, Wash., who’s a regular stop on Olenius’ route. “I like to try a variety of the foods, enjoy the good taste and also appreciate that I don’t have to run to the store.”
For Schwan’s drivers, however, deliveries aren’t just about bringing food to customers’ doorsteps. “What I most enjoyed about the home service was that after a while I began to feel like a member of the family,” says Richland Location Manager Steve Paige, 55, who fondly recalls his 12 years as a delivery driver. “You see kids move through school and then you’re delivering to them as adults.”
It’s a sentiment that’s shared by many of Schwan’s drivers. In fact, Alfred Schwan keeps in mind the words a delivery driver once told him: “The great thing about the job is you get up in the morning, drive out, and meet your first friend. Then all day you go from friend to friend.”