West Bend 100th Anniversary Part 2: Interview with Mike Otterman

Part two of my West Bend themed posts this week is a quick e-mail interview I conducted with Mike Otterman, the president of Focus Products Group the parent company that owns West Bend. 
EatWisconsin: West Bend has been an innovator in the small appliance industry being the first company to sell an automatic drip coffee maker for households.  It looks like that trend continues with items like the Versatility Cooker (an appliance that does triple duty as a slow cooker, griddle, and an aluminum pot that can be used on your stove or oven). What other innovative ideas has West Bend pioneered?  
Mike Otterman: Aside from the Versatility Cooker platform, West Bend® is most proud of 3 other major product innovations. We invented the drip coffee maker in 1922.  It started as a 2 pc kettle that was heated on the stove. Becoming independent from the stove, we developed a heating base to make large batches of coffee.  Today we remain a leader in large coffeemakers that do not require a paper filter (see 54160 on westbend.com)
In 1993 we were the first US company to manufacture automatic bread/dough makers.  By the end of the decade we were #1 share holder in the category.
And third, the iconic Stir Crazy popcorn maker in 1977 (unique in that it had a motorized stirring rod that ensures that every single kernel pops) We have sold over 5,000,000 million Stir Crazy popcorn poppers since its launch 35yrs ago.
EW: Speaking of innovations, there are always tales of innovations that didn’t quite live up to expectations.  Were there any memorable innovative products that didn’t strike a chord with the consumers?
West Bend Hot Dog Maker 
MO: I can elaborate on more but one was the hot dog cooker (Photo above) was too kitschy, as was potato chip factory (watch the YouTube video below). Both solved a need but the need wasn’t inherently one that commanded a solution enough for consumers to warrant a new appliance.
Ugh, I can see why this failed.

EW: It seems that every few years there is a household item that kind of takes the country by storm, items like the home cappuccino makers in the 90s and those Magic Bullet style and single cup coffee brewers in recent years. What do you think the next trend in small household appliances is?

MO: Healthy cooking, fast cooking, quality multi use appliances, tea, portion control  Partly due to the economic downturn and the uncertainty it brings, we see at home cooking on the rise. It inspires the warm feelings of creating and passing on family traditions. 
We also see some well-developed partnerships and licensing deals add a lot of legs to this industry.  This is why our national sponsorship with the world’s largest cooking magazine, Taste of Home and their cooking schools is so perfect for West Bend brand.
EW:  Since this is a site about Wisconsin food and restaurants, what are you favorite places to eat in the area?  Any West Bend hidden gems that EatWisconsin readers might like to know about?
MO: The Binkery, Timmers, and Imagine (for sandwiches – they love us and are in the building where we mfg for 90+ years)  Above all, I think people from out of town will quickly identify the great service all of the West Bend area restaurants provide.
EW: Why has the company decided to stay in Wisconsin instead of moving out of state or out of the country?
We are dedicated to this community and all that it has done to support us over the past 100 years.  Our history is so deeply rooted here.  Plus, West Bend® headquartered in Chicago, IL doesn’t ring “right”.  
EW: What can people expect at your 100th Anniversary celebration on September 25, 2011?
MO: Over 5000 with 450 25-Year Club company veterans, media, and government officials. We hope to see some buyers too. (more info on event below)
West Bend is allowing me to giveaway one of these these convection toaster ovens.  I tried to think of a contest that best represented EatWisconsin.  I am not traditionally a recipe website and 90 percent of my output is restaurant reviews but I do like to celebrate Wisconsin products so here is the deal, post a comment below or send one to me on Twitter (@EatWisconsin) telling me what your ultimate Wisconsin Pizza would be.  Not everything has to be local, but the majority of ingredients should be from Wisconsin (this includes any crops that can be grown here).  On Friday, September 23, 2011 I’ll  randomly select one winner to receive the West Bend Convection Toaster Oven.
Don’t forget that on Sunday, September 25 from 11:00am – 4:00pm West Bend will hold a HUGE celebration at Washington County Fair Grounds.  Its free and open to everyone.  The event will include a giant  “Sale of the Century” offering West Bend and other Focus Products Group items for up to 50% off retail prices.  The Klement’s Famous Racing Sausages will also make an appearance.  For more information on the 100th Anneversary party, check out pdf: http://www.westbendconnections.org/promos//WB100thAnn9-25.pdf

3 thoughts on “West Bend 100th Anniversary Part 2: Interview with Mike Otterman

  1. My ultimate Wisconsin pizza would be as close to the classic Neapolitan Margherita pizza as possible with most of the ingredients from Wisconsin. Flour from Lonesome Stone, tomatoes from Shooting Start Farm, mozzarella from Crave Brothers, basil from Yellow Barn Farm, a good sea salt, and Italian olive oil :)

  2. You guys REALLY need to bring that potato chip maker back. It’s epic. I loved that f-in thing so much. I used it so much the plastic part melted. I saw one new on eBay for $650. If he was willing to work out a better price I’d have got it.

  3. Non blog Word – Press themes described within this article are chosen from among hundreds available on the Internet. They will build your business far more open forum for folks that request such on-line places wherever they will share their ideology, concepts and experiences.

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