Gold"n Plump is the largest integrated chicken producer in the upper Midwest, providing premium, innovative products and meal solutions to meet the ever-changing needs of today"s consumers. The company"s high-quality, nutritious chicken products are distributed domestically to grocery stores, delis and restaurants throughout the U.S., and exported internationally.

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History of Gold"n Plump Poultry

Gold"n Plump Poultry is the largest chicken producer in the upper midwestern United States. The privately held company operates three production facilities and processes more than seven million pounds of chicken per week. With more than $200 million in sales, Gold"n Plump distributes a vast array of chicken products, including fresh tray-packed meat to fully seasoned and cooked entrees. The company markets its chicken through grocery stores, delis, and restaurants in 23 states and has expanded its operations to several international markets including the Far East. Since 1982 Gold"n Plump"s sales have risen tenfold.

The 1920s: Farming in the City

It was a different era when E. M. Helgeson and an early partner opened the St. Cloud Hatchery in a St. Cloud, Minnesota livery stable. The original company storefront stood on Seventh Avenue South in the heart of downtown. Hatching fuzzy, golden, day-old chicks in the center of a small city and selling them with the aid of direct-mail catalogs was an inventive approach in 1926. At the time most chicks were hatched on family farms the old-fashioned way, with brood hens hatching chicks at irregular intervals. St. Cloud Hatchery had incubators in the basement and second floors of its St. Cloud building and hatched vast numbers of chicks that were then ordered by customers directly or through the pages of the Sears catalog.

Cartonloads of chicks were delivered by the U.S. mail throughout the region. The developing company had found its niche and had proved that innovation and new technology could help revolutionize family farming. The partnership component of the venture was short-lived; shortly after the venture was formed, Helgeson"s business partner quit in order to start his own hatchery. Helgeson was thus left with his own resources to brave the Great Depression and its economic challenges.

As with most businesses, staying afloat during the Depression was a challenging ordeal. In order to help customers finance their purchases, Helgeson made independent financing available. When his financing business flourished he officially began what was to become one of the most successful area loan companies. Liberty Loan and Thrift Corporation became the hatchery"s first wholly owned subsidiary in 1934.

In the early 1930s Helgeson decided to rename his enterprise. He paid an associate $25 to come up with a name that would convey the health and hardiness of his mail-order chicks. With that image in mind the company took on the name Jack Frost.

Demand for Jack Frost chicks reached record levels during World War II. The war effort took an abundance of resources and many families, even urban ones, began to raise their own food. Chicks were in demand. When the war ended the company began to experience its first real downturn. The loan company became Helgeson"s greatest asset. In the postwar period the baby boom was underway. Homebuilding and converting the economy to peacetime became a national priority. Liberty Loan and Thrift soon became Liberty Savings Bank and provided full-service banking to the St. Cloud region. The bank provided the necessary capital and financial services to jumpstart the transition to a peacetime market. Helgeson"s son Don recalled the demise of the hatchery in the postwar years in a St. Cloud Times article: "Demand soared during World War II and plummeted afterward; the hatchery played second fiddle to Liberty Loan." Don Helgeson remembers talking his father out of liquidation, arguing that he saw potential for a meat business. "I became the manager of a business with four employees that was not making money," he said. Soon St. Cloud Hatcheries became Jack Frost Farm Foods and started using eggs from hens bred for meat production, instead of egg production.

Don Helgeson took over as head of the company in 1951. In 1955 Don Helgeson and his brother Jerry bought the company from their father and continued the business transition to meat production. The company negotiated a deal with Armour Foods and began to grow and process chickens. The Jack Frost strategy was to negotiate long-term contracts with farmers in the region, setting the growers up with specialized barns and the equipment necessary to raise premium chickens in an efficient manner. Applying the best science of the day the company built its own farm, updating its breeder facilities, and established a food mill to provide nutritious feed and create uniformity in its farming practices. The existing Armour plant in Cold Spring, Minnesota, served as Jack Frost"s first processing factory.

In 1964 a site on Lincoln Avenue in St. Cloud was developed as a new hatchery. The company"s direction was clearly focused on providing chicken meat to retail markets.

The 1970s: Another Name Change

It was in the 1970s that the company turned away from its $25 investment in the Jack Frost name. The Jack Frost logo had been associated with the hatchery and the company had moved solidly into chicken processing and production. The business launched fresh tray-packed chicken parts under the name Gold"n Plump Poultry.

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Gold"n Plump remained family-owned, however. Don and Jerry built the meat business together but Don and his son Mike took over when Jerry Helgeson sold his share of the company in 1985 after 30 years in the poultry business.

The company continued to grow and expand operations throughout its history. Under Don Helgeson"s leadership the company continued to diversify its product offerings. In 1983 the business acquired the Armour processing plant in Cold Spring, making it one of the largest employers in the city. In the book, St. Cloud--The Triplet City, the all-encompassing nature of the company is aptly described: "Today, the company oversees the breeding and growing operations of its contract farmers, hatches chicks, mills the feed, processes the chickens and markets finished products."