Food is big business in Walworth County

Food is Big Business In Walworth County

The Baby Boomers among us remember growing up to the Wonder Bread TV slogan about the white bread “building a body 12 different ways.” As you might have learned in the interim in since the 1960’s and 70’s, you can build your body a little differently with a mixture of healthy whole grains along with fruits, vegetables and lean meats!

In fostering economic development for our county I have to take a closer look at grain than you many might think.

Agriculture has been one of the mainstay’s of Walworth County’s economy throughout its entire history, and it remains a priority among county leaders. We have two anchor food processors that reside in the county, Kikkoman Foods and Birdseye Foods. Kikkoman made world headlines and the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite in 1972 when it chose Walworth, Wisconsin as its first manufacturing plant outside the home borders of Japan. Their core product of soy sauce has grown on a recipe that’s much less secret than The Colonel’s special blend of herbs and spices: The naturally blended condiment is made from salt, water and grain. Kikkoman cited plentiful water and good Wisconsin and Midwestern grain for the Walworth plant, which has grown in size over the years, including adding new silos for its special process in the past several years.

Birdseye, too, has recently grown at its Darien, both in facilities and in employment, with assistance from private and public initiatives including programs from WCEDA. The 13 mile Elkhorn Branch of Wisconsin Southern Railroad runs from just past Birdseye to just 300 yards behind our offices at Gateway Technical College Elkhorn. I like to think our business initiatives ride along those rails as well!

The whole farm-to-table movement has also served Walworth County well. More and more of our restaurants and food purveyors are offering locally grown or raised foods. And, and our visitors and seasonal residents love this aspect about Walworth County. Agri-tourism combines two of the county’s top industries, agriculture and tourism. Safari Lake Geneva is a recent addition to the area, and anyone who travels down Highway 67 toward Fontana knows about Pearce’s Farm Stand, which has quadrupled in size and offerings over the past several years. Food is big business in Walworth County.

The best evidence of that is the news of two new grocery stores in our area, one an international powerhouse, the other a village mainstay.

As this column goes to press the Williams Bay Village Board just approved a new grocer coming to the Southern Lakes area. Free Range Market and Deli and its owner, Catherine Willis, will be continuing the tradition of organic and natural food and other offerings as she assumes ownership of The Green Grocer on May 1. While we’re sorry to see the current owners of the store and café move on to other pursuits, Willis told us she will continue the same service and healthy offerings.

And the new ALDI discount food market has opened in Lake Geneva on Edwards Boulevard just south of Highway 50, giving a new option Delavan shoppers have enjoyed for some time from the Germany-based food giant.

Food for economic thought! Are there any resources your business needs to grow or to get started? If so, contact WCEDA at or visit

Published with permission from The Beacon & Good Humour, April 21,2017 issue.