The next time you travel south to Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park and sample some of its syrups and preserves, think about this: What you’re tasting comes from right up the road in Cambria.
John Linn, owner of Linn’s, has been supplying Knott’s with a growing number of preserves and syrups for about a year now, he said Thursday, in an exclusive deal that has led to a big production increase for the family-run Cambria business.
“We started with just four flavors of syrup and four flavors of preserves, and now we have 16 products that we provide for them,” said Linn, who said the two companies were waiting for the right time to go public with their partnership.
Linn declined to disclose how much the contract is worth, but said, “It’s far beyond anything we’ve ever tackled — and we sell to like 50 grocery stores. But they have 4 million visitors a year. This is just giant.”
Linn said he had to purchase a second kettle in which to make the preserves because of the high volume.
“I would say it has probably between doubled and tripled the total amount of preserves that we have historically made. We have never before shipped pallets of product.”
That’s all changed. A visit to Linn’s operation on Village Lane revealed plenty of pallets, all piled high with boxes bearing the Knott’s name. Workers were busy pouring the product into jars, sealing them and labeling them for shipment to the Buena Park site, which was founded in 1920 and grew over the years into an amusement park.
The products Linn’s supplies are sold under the “Berry Market” label, a name that was chosen for legal reasons. It turns out Knott’s doesn’t own the rights to the “Knott’s Berry Farm” brand anymore, at least when it comes to syrups and preserves. Knott’s sold its food products and operations in 1995, and Ohio-based J.M. Smucker Co. purchased them in 2008 — only to discontinue the brand two years ago.
That created the void that Linn’s eventually filled.
“Because Smucker’s bought the business, Smucker’s also owns the name ‘Knott’s Berry Farm’ — when it comes to the preserves, not the (amusement) park,” Linn said.
Linn had to weigh a couple of considerations before agreeing to the deal: He wanted to be sure he could handle the increased volume, and he needed to think about marketing his product under a name other than Linn’s.
“For many years, we wouldn’t do that,” he said. “I’ve always said, if we don’t have a name, we don’t have anything. We’ve worked pretty hard on branding ourselves. But when this came along, we felt like we could have a good relationship. Part of the reason is we could see it could lend some strength to us, and it’s not going to be a secret forever.”
Although Linn’s is making the preserves, they don’t taste the same as the products marketed under the Linn’s name. That’s because they’re not the same recipes. The Knott’s website states that they’re made “in the California home-style tradition” using “Cordelia Knott’s traditional recipe.”
“They are not selling Linn’s Preserves,” Linn said of Knott’s. “They didn’t want the public to be left with the impression that, because Linn’s was making the preserves, they are (made with) Linn’s recipe. That’s not the case.”Linn said he worked with Knott’s director of merchandise Bob Webster in putting together a deal. Webster has been with the company for 43 years, his tenure dating back to a time when four Knott siblings still ran the business. (They sold it in 1997 to an Ohio amusement park company.)
“He said, ‘I want to take it back to the way it was when the Knott family made the preserves,’ ” Linn said. “It so happens that this guy is a longtime visitor (to Cambria) — he’s been coming here for 25 years.”
Linn said he sees parallels between the path of his own business and that of Knott’s in its early years, before it added roller coasters and other amusements to its menu. In addition to its Original Farmstore on Santa Rosa Creek Road and Linn’s Restaurant on Main Street, the company operates three Bridge Street businesses: Easy as Pie Café, Linn’s Gourmet Goods and Linn’s Homestyle Gifts and Sale Loft, all in Cambria.
Linn, who grew up “about a mile away” from Knott’s Berry Farm, recalled receiving an unexpected visit from Russell Knott — one of the four siblings who at the time still ran the business — in Cambria a quarter-century ago.
“Russell Knott just showed up one day,” he said. “He and I sat down on the porch and just talked for a couple of hours. It was very memorable for me. He said, ‘You still have that charm that we lost, because now we’re not a farm, we’re an amusement park. Beware of losing that charm.”