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C-Level: Kim Wall provides the ‘lips behind the kiss’ at Ma Baensch

November 10, 2018

Steve Jagler, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Nov. 9, 2018

Baensch Food Products Co. is a small company that must constantly be prepared for big  changes in the food and beverage industry.


Kim Wall, president of the Milwaukee company that produces Ma Baensch herring, says preemptive flexibility is crucial to survival in an industry that is perpetually evolving to meet changing preferences of foodies and governmental regulations.


Shortly after acquiring the company in 1999, Wall worked with Wisconsin grocers to move the familiar Ma Baensch herring jars from their dairy sections to the meat and seafood sections of their   stores. Wall then worked to achieve the official kosher certification from the Chicago Rabbinical Council to appeal to a wider customer base.


More recently, Wall decided to modify Ma Baensch’s herring recipes to achieve a “clean label,” signifying a completely “transparent” product void of any preservatives or generically categorized “all natural” ingredients.That also meant changing the original recipe of the late Lena Baensch’s Wine Herring.


“Lena’s original marinade formula only called for six ounces of white wine in a 160-gallon batch. Due to some consumer concerns regarding consuming alcohol, it made sense just to remove the wine entirely,” Wall said. 


For the record, no one’s getting pickled on Wall’s watch.


With the change, the name of the company’s signature product is now called Ma Baensch Original Recipe Marinated Herring.


All the ingredients in the marinade are now listed individually on the label: clove, bay leaf, cassia, nutmeg, red pepper and cardamom. In addition, Wall decided to remove the preservative from her Ma Baensch Sour Cream & Chive Herring.


She also replaced liquid beet sugar, which was declared genetically modified, with liquid cane sugar, which is not GMO.


Wall is gearing up for her company’s busiest season, when herring is a staple at many Wisconsin holiday parties. The season accounts for 50 percent to 60 percent of the firm’s annual sales.


“We like to say it goes from deer hunting to New Year’s Eve at midnight,” Wall said.


How much herring, wild caught in the Atlantic Ocean near Newfoundland, Canada, will her small business at 1025 E. Locust St. produce this season?


“Hopefully enough for everyone to have what they want,” Wall said. The company brags that it has been providing the “kiss of health” since 1932. Ma Baensch’s website describes Wall as the “lips behind the kiss.”


In case you are wondering, the red lipstick print on the Ma Baensch label on the jar is indeed a replica of Wall’s lips.


“It’s something happy. If you’re eating herring, it’s a holiday. It’s a gathering. And a little sexy,” Wall said.


And beginning with the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, Wall will begin planning to keep up with the next round of changing consumer preferences. The company has an ongoing challenge in introducing herring fillets to millennials, Wall said.


“Snacking is huge with millennials. They snack four or five times a day. And we are the Wisconsin sushi,” Wa ll said. “It is a healthy protein, rich in omega 3.”


One of her major wholesale clients, Kroger Co., the parent company of Milwaukee-based Roundy’s Pick ‘n Save, Metro Market and Copps stores, recently announced its top five food trends of 2019, as curated by its team of new product developers, chefs and innovators:


1. Regional flavors. “Foods influenced by regions across the country are bringing flavor and fun to any meal. From tried-and-true barbecue sauces and flavorful potato chips with a twist — inspiration is coming from Nashville hot chicken, Southern Appalachian pimento cheese and other geographies. America’s culinary heritage is as varied as it is delicious. Consumers will see a growing number of products influenced by local, regional and global tastes,” Kroger said.


2. Plant-based foods. “Consumers are finding it is easier than ever before to incorporate more plant-based fare into their daily diets. By electing to go meat or dairy free, whether for a meal, a meatless Monday, flexitarian Friday or every day of the week, there will be more plant-based options available to power through the day. Last year, 31 percent of consumers participated in meat-free days once per week,” Kroger said.


3. Eating styles. “More consumers are purchasing better-for-you products and subscribing to different eating styles, from vegetarian to flexitarian to keto and paleo. A recent study reports 15 percent of the U.S. population identify as vegetarian or vegan,” Kroger said.


4. Gut-healthy foods. “Medical studies show that a healthy gut is the foundation of overall wellness, and more than ever before, consumers are seeking foods that support self-care and healthy immune systems. Consumers will find a growing number of products rich in probiotics — good bacteria — and flavor,” Kroger said.


5. Low sugar and natural sweeteners. “Many consumers are motivated to reduce or eliminate sugar and/or consume alternate natural sweeteners like honey and agave. … New solutions and foods will continue to be added to grocery shelves to help consumers find products rich in nutrition and flavor and lean on sugar,” Kroger said.




Kim Wall

Title: President


Company: Baensch Food Products Co., Milwaukee


Hometown: Beloit


Residence: St. Francis


Education: Graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, with a double major in accounting and economics


Family: Her dog, Blu, and her cat, Dickens


Best advice ever received: “At the ripe old age of 6 my dad told me my career choices were doctor, lawyer or CPA. So, I have always known that a woman could steer any ship.”


Favorite movie: “Deadpool”


Favorite musical artist: Todd Rundgren


Favorite Wisconsin restaurants: Breakfast, Sheridan’s in St. Francis; lunch, Lake Park Bistro in Milwaukee; and dinner, Odd Duck in Bay View


After hours: “Using live bait, I have caught 21 different species of freshwater fish in the Mississippi River and turned many of them into delicious meals.”