In Marketplace

Vendors sling Johnsonville brats outside the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo.

In Marketplace

Johnsonville is big in Japan, literally.

Wisconsin sausage is huge in Japan...

And in Mexico. And China. And Canada. And Korea.

Wisconsinites tend to think we're the official keepers of the bratwurst, but we're not the only ones anymore. Sausage has gone global.

"We think of it as exporting a little bit of Wisconsin culture overseas," says Bob Morgan, president of Johnsonville Sausage in tiny Sheboygan Falls, Wis. (Population: About 7,600.) "We believe the product we're offering is better than anything in those markets. It's American, it's new, it's different. But we know once they try it they're going to love it."

Recently, Johnsonville's overseas business has been positively sizzling.

In the last four years, its export business skyrocketed by 67 percent and is expected to make the company $40 million this year, which accounts for about 7 percent of its overall sales. Since starting with Canada about 15 years ago, it has expanded shipping to 30 countries.

The company even opened two restaurants in Shanghai, China, where it showcases photos of Wisconsin cornfields and the sausage factory. The sausage is used there in sandwiches and dishes like rice, soup and salad.

"We promote our products as American grilling sausage," Morgan says. "Canada has been a huge market, Mexico is taking off, Korea is taking off. It's amazing. They absolutely love it."

Fueled by this expansion, Johnsonville has nearly doubled its workforce to 1,400 employees, up from 750 five years ago. For these efforts, Johnsonville was awarded the Presidential E Award for Export Excellence (like its sausage, it's a mouthful) this spring. Morgan even visited the White House for this honor, where President Bush declared his love of his brats.

"You hear so much about all the jobs that are moving overseas, but we're doing the opposite," says Morgan, whose business is still owned by the family of the founder. "We're creating jobs and shipping our products overseas. It's just incredible growth."

That's not to say people all over the world are grilling out with Miller High Life in the backyard. Johnsonville -- which still uses its name and logo on all its exports -- has had to modify its products to match different cultural tastes and customs. It has had to tweak its recipe in different countries to account for expectations of salt, seasoning or even size. Take Japan, for instance.

"They thought our sausage sizes were very large," Morgan laughs.

He sees the overseas markets continuing to grow. The only challenge he sees is widening distribution and getting cultures who've never heard of the sausages to try them.

"When we get it in their mouth," he says, "we know they're going to like it."

Talkbacks

misobento | July 31, 2008 at 9:39 a.m. (report)

When I was in Kyoto I enjoyed Johnsonville in the train station--so it is true! We took a photo which was then sent to the Japanese office and they circulated it all the way back to the US offices! Normally I eat local food, but when we saw the Johnsonville sign we just had to have a taste of home.

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arks00 | July 31, 2008 at 9:19 a.m. (report)

all laughs aside, this is a great article. Good news for this state and good to hear the business is booming.

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High_Life_Man | July 31, 2008 at 8:23 a.m. (report)

This has got to be the quote of the year! "When we get it in their mouth," he says, "we know they're going to like it."

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brewerfan13 | July 31, 2008 at 8:00 a.m. (report)

Thanks for the laugh this morning, OMC. American sausages are huge in Japan?? When we get it in their mouth, we know they're going to like it? Hee hee. Yeah, I know, I'm 12.

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