Harbor Wholesale Foods, a great grandfather’s dream that’s become a Thurston County success story

Justin Erickson, CEO

In 1923, Carl Erickson, as a young immigrant from Sweden, opened his own business in Aberdeen, delivering butter, eggs and cheese every morning.

Today, 88 years later, Erickson’s great grandson, Justin Erickson, is the CEO of that business which has grown into Harbor Wholesale Foods, a multi-million dollar company that distributes food to convenience stores in six states.

In May, Harbor Wholesale opened a new distribution center in Lacey, expanding its warehouse capacity from 75,000 to 210,000-square feet.

“We’ve looked at building a new warehouse for a long time,” Erickson said. “Probably starting in 2003. This was a big dream of my dad’s.”

Justin’s father, Mike Erickson, is the chairman of the board.

Harbor Wholesale currently employs 275 and last year generated $380 million in revenue, continuing steady growth in the company. It topped $100 million in revenue for the first time in 2000.

The family-owned business with the modest beginning simply outgrew its space at its Tumwater warehouse. Construction began in August and distribution in the new warehouse began just 10 months later.


Harbor Wholesale Foods – New Distribution Center

“The company has grown fairly quickly,” Erickson said. “Even when I was growing up, the company wasn’t that large. Everyone had to chip in to get work done.”

Family members didn’t get a guaranteed paycheck simply by showing up. As a kid, Erickson worked after school or during the summers in the warehouse packing. Later, he drove trucks, delivering.

“We’ve all come in and worked and done whatever it takes to make the company successful,” Erickson said.

The new warehouse allows Harbor Wholesale to consolidate from four buildings to one.

“By being in one place, it helps in communications,” Erickson said. “It’s also made us more efficient.”

From the days Carl Erickson made his home deliveries in the 1920s, the business now delivers to 2,000 customers, which includes convenience stores, grocery stores, drug stores, colleges and restaurants. Customers include Walgreens, Casa Mia, and Brewery City Pizza. Harbor Warehouse distributes in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, northern California and Alaska.

After buying a distribution company in Oregon in 2007, Harbor Wholesale employs 75 in Oregon and 200 in Washington, including 175 at its Lacey warehouse. The company owns 40 trucks and the first trucks start heading out each night for deliveries at 8 p.m., heading for the Tri-Cities and Everett to distribution centers.

Over the years, the company has stuck to its mission statement “to be the premier distributor by providing our customer with outstanding products and services to promote their success.” They’ve fulfilled that mission. Harbor Wholesale Foods is the leading broad line distributor of convenience products in the Northwest and one of the nation’s top 25 convenience store distributors.

To insure costumer satisfaction, Harbor Wholesale insures employee satisfaction. A happy worker translates to a happy customer.

Harbor Wholesale was recognized by the Puget Sound Business Journal as one of the best places to work in Washington.

“I’m a believer that how companies treat their employees there is a direct reflection of how the customers are going to be treated,” Erickson said. “If we want to be successful in how we treat our customers and live up to their services that are expected, we have to treat our employees right. So, they in turn do their job, care about the company and do the right thing for the customer.”

In addition to nearly tripling its warehouse space, Harbor Wholesale also modernized its packaging line and became automated, insuring faster and more accurate deliveries. But Erickson said speed isn’t the primary focus.

“If you’re doing things faster and still doing things wrong, you haven’t gotten any better,” Erickson said.

Harbor Wholesale delivers over 12,000 different products, which include products made by Kraft, Hershey and General Mills. In an attempt to expand and to diversify, Harbor Wholesales has started its own food product line, selling it under the name Mountain Fresh. That food line includes sandwiches and trail mix.

Other product lines Harbor Wholesale now has include Olympic Rain Bottled Water and Java Classics coffee. Harbor Wholesale also does a lot of store planning for customers, setting up layout and pricing. To attrack customers for its coffee line, Harbor Wholesale provides stores with the equipment and installs it.

“We’re looking to expand to other areas,” Erickson said.

Harbor Wholesale was originally called West Coast Produce Company when it was in Aberdeen. In 1954, the company became known as the Harbor Wholesale Grocery. Now, it is known as Harbor Wholesale Foods to best reflect its expanding business.

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