The U. S. confectionery market reached $33.6 billion in sales last year and is expected to attain about $39.6 billion in five years*. This trend presents opportunities for strong growth for GKI Foods LLC because it has the ability to provide high quality, affordable confectionery products, and the flexibility to package products in styles and sizes that meet customers’ willingness to purchase.

At its 100,000-square-foot Brighton, MI operation, which includes a production plant and a packaging facility, the 43-year-old company makes granola products, as well as fancy chocolate candies, enrobed (coated) products, panned candies, fruits and nut confections for many national companies, including upscale retail stores and major pharmacy chains. GKI Foods offers bulk and private label packaging in tubs, laydown and peg bags and stand-up pouches for mid-size retail chains and provides bulk packaged products to companies that repackage products under their own brands.

New brand launch

GKI determined that launching Kensington Confections, a new brand over which it had full production and distribution control, would provide a substantial opportunity for business growth.

“Kensington Confections is a brand that we offer to small and midsize retailers that do not have the capacity or desire to develop their own private label,” explains John Weller, GKI Foods general manager. “They can carry these products in their stores, marketing them as their brand and displaying them alongside all the big national brands for 10 to 20 percent lower cost.”

The ability to offer flexible sized packaging of its Kensington Confections brand enables GKI to hit a price point based on where grocery, garden stores, discount or dollar stores want to sell it.

Since GKI Foods’ products typically have a shelf life of 10 to 12 months and do not require packaging that contains many moisture barriers or metallic film, the company’s packaging is recyclable and sustainable, as well as economical. To reflect the high quality and clean image of the products, GKI hired design firm Flowdesign ( of Northville, MI to develop the eye-catching package.

Expanding packaging options

GKI Foods runs packaging lines for transparent tubs with tamper resistant seals that ensure freshness, and a vertical fill-form-seal machine to produce four and five ounce peg bags and 13- to 16-ounce laydown bags. The company recognized, however, that having the ability to offer customers 4- to 16-ounce pre-made pouches with re-sealable zippers was essential to providing more packaging options to enhance their sales opportunities, as well as enable GKI Foods to launch its own brand.

GKI Foods had a very large number of SKUs with numerous changeovers per shift. For that reason the company thought that pre-made pouches would be faster to changeover and would save on material wastage common with pouch making equipment that requires many different film rolls during the day.

GKI Foods was anxious to start the Kensington Confections brand as soon as possible and also needed a pre-made pouch machine for one of its customer’s projects. This gave the company a narrow nine-month window to be up and running with pre-made pouches. GKI Foods investigated the capabilities of a number of machines and chose the Toyo Jidoki TT-8D-N pre-made pouch filler/sealer, which is sold and supported in the United States by Matrix Packaging Machinery (, powered by Pro Mach, and added a Yamato ( scale. The Toyo Jidoki machine met the company’s requirements for a high-speed manual pouch feeding machine that was simple to clean, provided easy changeover and was available to be installed within the nine-month time frame.

Today, the Toyo Jidoki is packaging about 20 GKI Foods’ products and fills between 30 and 45 pouches per minute. Pouches are conveyed to manual case packing stations. With the equipment’s stainless steel surface, all contact surfaces are cleaned with a dust and dry clean process and sanitized. Easy access to all surfaces speeds the cleaning process and minimizes downtime. Changeover is also simple, and the touch screen controls make operation intuitive.

“Matrix handled the entire turnkey project, serving as a single point of contact for integration, startup and training,” Weller reports. “Given the limited time for project completion, training and support was just as important as the quality and performance of the machine. We had Matrix technicians onsite during the initial startup and they also provided phone support when we needed it.”

Ongoing growth

Using the Toyo Jidoki pre-made pouch machine gave GKI Foods the ability to change one customer’s package from five ounce laydown packages to 8- and 10-ounce pouches and upscale the candy to pure milk and dark chocolate with improved margins. This boosted the customer’s sales and revenues and increased GKI Foods volume with that customer three times in the last two years.

By expanding the flexibility of its packaging capabilities and adding pre-made pouch equipment, the company can offer its customers more options to meet their changing needs and increase sales. The improvements also enabled the company to complete its roll out plans for Kensington Confections brand. The flexibility of the machine in terms of various size pouches will provide GKI Foods with the ability to fill a number of market needs as the brand grows.

To see a video from our plant tour of GKI Foods, go to

*U.S. confectionery market increases sales figures from