From Chicken Farms to Major Food Company

The Suter Company, Farm Bureau’s next-door neighbor

A century ago, Charles Suter bought a farm in Palatine, Illinois and began his chicken and egg business which would eventually evolve into a major food company.

He called his first farm Atlasta, meaning “at last a farm.” Charles moved to the Genoa area and bought farms there to raise and process both chickens and turkeys for grocery stores and restaurants. Eggs were also candled, graded and sold to customers.

Tim Suter, President of The Suter Company, is the third generation of Suter’s to lead the food company based in Sycamore.

It wasn’t long before the business was growing and Charles changed the name to Bon Terra Farms, which was French for “good land” (he served in France during World War I).

He moved his poultry business to Sycamore in 1938 and changed the name to Suter Foods. Charles sold his farms a few years later to concentrate solely on processing chickens for the wholesale market.

In those early years the company eviscerated chickens and distributed chicken meat to restaurants in Northern Illinois. Slaughtering was discontinued at the May Street plant in Sycamore and canning began for food service distribution. The plant was modernized and mechanized through the years for canning chicken and tuna.

Charles Suter founded The Suter Company nearly 100 years ago. He is shown here at his desk at the May Street plant.

Charles’ college-educated sons, Chuck and George, joined the business in the mid-1950s and continued to expand operations/product lines including introducing a proprietary line of shelf stable entrée salads and refrigerated salads. Charles retired by 1960 and passed away a decade later.

The May Street plant was the 169th plant in the U.S. to gain USDA inspection status, with its P-169 mark of inspection in 1956.

George led the Suter Company for nearly four decades. George’s sons, Dan and Tim, began working at Suter Foods in their younger years.

“During my middle school and high school years, I worked in every role at the May Street plant,” said Tim. “From deboning chickens to the canning line to research. After college (Miami University graduate) I was a regional sales manager for the company, which helped me understand what customers wanted and needed.”

Charles Suter bought a farm in Palatine and began raising chickens on his Atlasta Farm in 1925. It was the early beginnings of his chicken and egg business.

When George retired in 1998 Tim became president of The Suter Company at the age of 30.

As the third generation of Suters, Tim leads the company with confidence and conviction. He and his administrative team of 25 work closely with their 400 employees to process and package fresh salads (chicken, tuna, egg, seafood), snack kits, dips and spreads for their many retail chain customers.

Chicken salad is their most popular item which they make at Suter and vary the recipe based on what their customer wants. And they use a variety of agricultural products as food ingredients in their salads.

The company has grown their line of refrigerated entrée salads through co-pack and private label opportunities. “We have found our niche in the food industry,” claims Tim. “Yet our product development team continues to try new ideas.”

They also have made major changes to the May Street canning facility along with constructing a state-of-the-art production and packaging facility and offices on Bethany Road in Sycamore, east of the Farm Bureau Building.

In 1938 Charles Suter moved his business to Sycamore on State Street and then in 1946 relocated to May Street. That’s where Suter’s Foods began its many expansions in food processing and building changes; shown here in 1957.

President Tim Suter provides this overview of The Suter Company:

What are you most proud about as the third generation to run The Suter Company?

“Our commitment to running a business with the primary purpose of honoring God in all we do. Our vision is to “Enrich Lives for Generations” and two of our core values include Extraordinary Care and Radical Generosity.”

“We want to make sure we are stewarding well the resources that have been entrusted to us. I’m also very proud of our move to become employee-owned.”

Chicken salad is their most popular product made at The Suter Company. Here an employee prepares a large vat of chicken salad for mixing.

What are the major changes which you have led in the last 25 years?

“Our approach to market has completely changed from serving the foodservice industry to one whose primary markets are retail establishments – and we reach those markets now through co-pack and private label services instead of selling under our own brands.”

“We have also grown our culture tremendously over the last decade in particular. Also, most people in our community notice the physical growth of our facilities and the dramatic increase in total employment. And finally, the transition from being family-owned to employee-owned.”

How would your grandpa feel about the company today?

“I wish I had known my grandpa – he died when I was two. I don’t know what he would think. My guess is that he would be shocked and pleased with that we have become. He was a man of strong faith so I think he would also applaud the way we care for and serve others, seeing work as an opportunity to worship.”

What are your company’s core values?

“Respect, Integrity, Extraordinary Care, Radical Generosity, Better Every Day and Customer Success.”

An employee at Suter places cans on the assembly line for packaging. There are 400 employees who work at the food company, with two shifts, at the Bethany Road facility.

What do you enjoy most leading The Suter Company?

“The people, the relationships. I am so humbled to lead a team of such dedicated, talented and hard-working people.”

What differentiates you from other food companies?

“Our approach to market is different in that we ‘custom blend’ every product we make to meet the needs of our customers. We are flexible, creative and have a yes-mentality around everything we do for our customers. Our culture is also very unique and our customers recognize that because we always operate from our core value of integrity and they don’t experience that from their other suppliers.”

The Commerical Team at Suter works together to manage and lead operations for the food company interfacing with customers.

What do you attribute your success to?

“I think our recent success, which I never take for granted, can be attributed to our amazing employees. We have brought many exceptional leaders into the business and then given them the vision and resources to flourish. We also remain hyper-focused on taking great care of our customers so they always seem to come back to us for more.”

What’s your favorite food product you make?

“The white meat chicken salad that we make for the leading wholesale club chain in the United States. It’s delicious and has a cult-like following all around the US – we make over 5 million pounds of that item each year.”

What changes do you anticipate in the future?

“More of the same. We are just getting started on our journey of being employee-owned and that will have great potential to impact lives in the future. We want to continue to push the envelope with our caring culture by providing more-and-more unique benefits like our Dream Manager Program and the Chaplains that serve our employees every week.”

How is The Suter Company involved in the community?

“The most visible way that we live our core value of Radical Generosity is through our Community Service Calendar. Every month we provide all employees with at least one opportunity to do service work in our community. In 2022 our employees led 19 service events and 325 of our employees served in our community at least once.”

“Our signature service event is the annual MobilePack event we host for Feed My Starving Children. In 2022, we hosted more than 4,100 volunteers and packed more than 1.1 million meals to serve children in the most impoverished nations in the world.”

Learn more about The Suter Company history in Reflections HERE.