Having started with Northfield freezing in 1985, Bud Martinson is now back in Northfield's original building -- as director of sales for spiral freezing systems supplier NTFE America.
The year was 1985. Ronald Reagan had just been sworn in for his second term. “We Are the World” was number one on the Billboard Top 40. Microsoft released Windows 1.0. And New Coke was unveiled … and promptly replaced with Coke Classic.
And, in Northfield, Minn., Bud Martinson began his career in the spiral freezing industry.
“In many ways, it just doesn’t seem that long ago,” says Martinson. “But in other ways, it seems like an eternity.”
It was a connection to Bill Cowles – then owner and president of Northfield Freezing Systems – and his brother Tim Cowles that brought Martinson into the industry. He was hired as a national sales representative and charged with helping to develop new accounts and manage existing accounts.
“Early on, there were only a few of us involved in the sales process, and we did it all,” says Martinson. “We managed the entire sales process, including all of the applications work, and even some of the after-sale coordination and project management.”
While Martinson hesitates to talk about himself as an applications “engineer,” it’s clear that a broad and deep understanding of the systems he was selling and the markets he served was required. “Because I handled many of the technical details from an applications standpoint, I really got to know the equipment from top to bottom, inside and out,” he says. “And over time it became clear that my customers really appreciated that level of understanding and technical knowledge. It gave me the ability to discuss their needs and then come up with the best solution to meet those needs.”
“The late '80s and '90s were a great time to be in the industry,” he continues. “Our sales volume was solid, I was learning a ton about the food processing industry, and I really enjoyed the company and the customers. Northfield Freezing Systems was a private, reasonably sized company … we all worked closely together and sold a product that we understood and believed in.”
Martinson remained with Northfield Freezing Systems after it was purchased by York International (York Food Systems) in 1995. “Being acquired by a competitor can create challenges. We’re a fairly small industry and all of us at Northfield knew many of the York guys … we grew up in the industry together. This helped a lot in the transition,” says Martinson. “There were the expected changes – especially from a company culture perspective – that took some getting used to once we moved from a private company to a public one.”
A major change was the fact that York brought additional product lines to the table – an IQF tunnel freezer, contact freezer, impingement freezer, trolley freezer, and others – all of which allowed Martinson to become acquainted with a wider range of freezing applications. York’s sales set-up also included separate sales and applications functions, a configuration that allowed sales reps to hand off the applications portion of the work if necessary.
“My approach had always been to be fully involved in the entire sales process, including the applications work,” says Martinson. “So this separation between the two components was a shift for me. Fortunately, I was able to remain involved and use the applications group as a resource rather than a ‘hand-it-off-to-them’ scenario. This gave me a chance to deepen my understanding of customer needs, and to also learn about the additional product lines that York offered.”
Martinson remained with Northfield Freezing Systems/York throughout the remainder of the 1990s. In 2000, the company was acquired by FMC Corporation and Northfield Freezing Systems became a part of the FMC FoodTech Division (later renamed JBT FoodTech). The Northfield company name was dropped, although remnants of it remained as a product line.
Martinson says the FMC acquisition was similar to the earlier York acquisition in that the main interest was the well established and highly regarded Northfield low-tension spiral product line … a line which would serve to nicely complement the existing product lines of the acquiring company.
“The FMC acquisition brought additional food processing equipment to our product portfolio,” he says. “We now had portioning, coating, cooking and freezing equipment which allowed us to look at entire processing lines. Having daily access to this new equipment was a great way to further my knowledge of the food processing industry in areas where I had not been previously exposed. This enabled me to discuss applications in much more detail and to be aware of how other pieces of equipment in a processing line had an impact on the operation and performance of the freezers.”
Martinson adds, “While the exposure to the portioning, coating and cooking applications was a great learning experience, I still found myself with a real preference for food-freezing applications, and over time I began to miss the culture and set-up we’d had back in the Northfield Freezing days.”
In early 2009 – after Martinson had left JBT – he began hearing rumbles about a new company that would ultimately become NTFE-America. “This industry is in many ways a small one,” said Martinson. “There were rumors that something was cooking, but I didn’t really know the details or the people involved.”
During 2009, it became clear to Martinson that the rumors were true, and had real substance to them. The group that would become NTFE-America was moving along in the process of setting up the company and working with its China-based counterparts. It became clear to Martinson that this new company could utilize his background and knowledge.
“Once I knew that Bill and Tim Cowles would be involved, my interest grew,” says Martinson. He officially joined the team in late 2009.
“Joining NTFE-America was about staying in an industry that I know and love, and about working with a product line that I understand,” he says. “I’ve always enjoyed working in a small team environment and I like the company culture that the Cowles and (company president) Craig Ibsen have set-up.”
“We’ve got a great story to tell, and a great product,” he continues. “Our freezers are manufactured in China by one of the world leaders in spiral freezer manufacturing (NTFE). We took the experience and expertise we’d gained during our time at Northfield Freezing Systems and helped improve an already stellar product.”
Working alongside H.J. “Sco” Scofield – another former member of Northfield Freezing Systems – and engineer Mark Loftus, the NTFE-America team “put the Northfield imprint” on the NTFE freezer, helping to get it ready for sales in the North American marketplace.
“NTFE already has more than 1,600 spiral systems out there,” says Martinson, “which is one of the reasons we’re so excited about this partnership. Yes, we’re a ‘start-up company,’ but we’re a start-up with an impressive history of delivering high-quality spirals to satisfied customers around the world.”
Martinson points to his technical experience as a real asset to the NTFE-America team.
“The fact is that we most often deal with plant engineers and project engineers … people who are highly technical. I think they appreciate my – and our – knowledge of the intricacies of our equipment and of the food-processing industry.”
“I really like our story,” Martinson adds. “I like our product and I like our team. For me, 25 years in, I still feel energized and excited about what I do. I really feel fortunate to have wound up here, with NTFE-America. While the names have changed, in many ways I feel like I’ve come full circle. In fact, I’m back in the original building where I started with Northfield Freezing Systems. And I’m back with a great product that I really believe in.”
Founded in 1986, NTFE says it is the world's largest and fastest growing industrial freezer manufacturer. Possessing 32 patents and boasting more than 500 employees – including 156 engineers and technicians – NTFE exports freezing products to more than 40 countries around the world. – NTFE America
(507) 786-9494 / www.ntfe-america.com.