It takes a minute to get used to the fish smell in the East Berlin factory. But it’s bearable, and the busy, smiling employees buzzing around the plant don’t seem to mind.
In Zeigler Bros. Inc.’s main plant section, employees change metal plates on machines that make fish food pellets, massive silos of feed perched 50 feet overhead. In the warehouse, workers load bags of feed onto shipping containers heading to Asia, Africa, South America and everywhere in between for companies, private buyers and zoos.
On the other side of the factory, smaller machines make specialty feeds for shrimp farms and animals at research facilities as well as bulk fish-food flakes.
Zeigler Bros. makes and sells more than 300 types of animal feeds in nearly 50 countries and has captured a large segment of the market for a company with just 62 full-time and 11 part-time employees.
“I don’t know that we’ve ever been scared,” said Matt Zeigler, vice president of operations. “There’s a lot of opportunity out there.”
Matt’s father, Thomas Zeigler, had pioneered the company’s involvement in aquaculture feeds — think Pennsylvania’s trout hatcheries — in the 1970s as farming fish the same as livestock or chickens emerged. Aquaculture soon became an important world food source and a key segment of the company’s feed business.
It’s also making millions in revenue at large growth rates, although executives declined to release the latest figures. In 2008, total revenue was more than $14 million, according to Business Journal records.
But times weren’t always good, and Zeigler Bros. is a company that literally faced trial by fire to get where it is today.
In 2007, the company’s facility in Gardners, Adams County, was destroyed by fire, leaving Zeigler Bros. with half the capacity to produce feeds at a time when its international sales were growing.
Prospects looked dim, said Tim Zeigler, vice president of sales and marketing. The company had ambitious sales goals, and it didn’t look possible to meet those expectations in the recession with just one factory. The company’s 2008 sales grew by just 1.2 percent.
It consolidated all production to East Berlin, and the company’s employees banded together to make it work. It diversified its markets and products even more, as well as collaborated with research universities and government agencies such as the National Institutes of Health.