Paul Smucker Wagstaff used to be a Smucker. Well, technically he still is a Smucker, but he’s also not. Wagstaff spent most of his career with The J.M. Smucker Co., the near-ubiquitous Orville-based company whose family name he bears. For some 20 years, he worked his way up the hierarchical ladder, progressively taking on greater and greater responsibilities presumably on his way to one day lead the multi-billion dollar international food company. Then he quit.
Smucker Co. qualified Wagstaff’s curious and, at least from the outside, sudden exit with a statement it submitted to the SEC that said his departure was not done in a climate of ill will. A couple years later, Wagstaff reappeared as president and CEO of Eagle Family Foods Group LLC, a company he created with business partner Jeff Boyle, using a carveout of Smucker’s canned milk business as its foundation. He’s gone on to shape the 300-employee company’s identity by buying up two snack brands — makers of popcorn and veggie snacks — and positioned it as a player in the snacks and baking aisles.
“I’ve always wanted to run my own business. Good or bad, right or wrong, this is my opportunity to do it,” Wagstaff says. “I know it may sound crazy to some people, but to me it’s very exciting to run and create something and create the team. That’s fun to me. That is exciting.”
Leaving the mother ship
Wagstaff says he’s always had an entrepreneurial bent — a desire to create, to build a business of his own — and he had his opportunities at Smucker Co. to do essentially that. He oversaw its U.S. Retail Oils and Baking business as its president, presiding over the multi-branded six-category division that had $1 billion in sales, $100 million in profit, five plants and 700 employees. He also headed the U.S. Retail Consumer Foods Division, with its eight categories, eight plants and 1,300 employees.
Still, even with that opportunity and the institutional latitude to shape massive business divisions, something was missing.
“I loved my time at Smucker’s. I mean, my cousin (Mark Smucker) is still running it and doing a great job and I love everything about it. But the independent piece is something that’s really attractive to me; and the newness of it,” Wagstaff says. “Smucker’s had tons of support, incredible people that work there, really great talent. But even when you’re building something, you’re building inside of a very strong, protective kind of mother ship. For me, I really enjoy the piece of this that is a white slate and you’re on your own. The adventure piece of it is really attractive to me.”