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Published in Food/Agribusiness
From left: Ferris Coffee & Nut President Mark Van Tongeren, Executive Chairperson John Van Tongeren, and David Van Tongeren. From left: Ferris Coffee & Nut President Mark Van Tongeren, Executive Chairperson John Van Tongeren, and David Van Tongeren. COURTESY PHOTO

Next generation takes over leadership at family-owned Ferris Coffee & Nut 

BY Margot Amouyal Wednesday, January 25, 2023 12:54pm

GRAND RAPIDS — Ferris Coffee & Nut Co., a family-owned and Grand Rapids-based coffee and nut roasting business, has completed a succession plan that passes leadership to the next generation.  

Under the plan, Mark Van Tongeren takes over as president from his father, John Van Tongeren, who became the owner of Ferris in 1985. 

“I’m in a unique position where I get to continue my father’s legacy and get to build upon Ferris for the foreseeable future,” Mark Van Tongeren told MiBiz

Ferris executives in 2019 announced the succession plan, the first in the company’s nearly 100-year history to pass down to a younger generation within the family. As Mark Van Tongeren takes over as president, his brother, David, — who worked closely in a human resources role at Ferris — will leave to pursue other opportunities. John Van Tongeren will remain involved in the business as Ferris’ executive chairperson. 

“The time presented itself this year,” Mark Van Tongeren said. “We attempted to do this over the past couple of years and the clarity just wasn’t there.” 

Ferris Coffee & Nut is among the minority of family-owned businesses historically with a clear succession plan, according to recent surveys and studies. A 2021 PricewaterhouseCoopers survey found that just 34 percent of family businesses nationally have a “robust, documented and communicated succession plan in place.”

“You have to have a set of agreed upon and followed rules for how decisions are made and how disagreements happen,” Van Tongeren said. “Prioritizing the family relationships first and making sure those are strong is key to a successful family business.”

Van Tongeren credited his father for setting Ferris Coffee & Nut up for success. The company’s aspirations moving forward include maintaining a positive cash flow and preserving long-standing relationships with manufacturers in West Michigan, he added. 

“We need to take care of each other. We need to take care of our customers,” Van Tongeren said. 

Along with his team of 130 employees, Van Tongeren plans to grow the coffee shop, consumer packaged goods and wholesale sides of the business regionally and nationally.

“Looking forward, we are laser focused on continuing to build on our on-premise business with our food service distributors, cafe and restaurant partners,” Van Tongeren said. “We’re aligned, and we are all considerably focused on the health of our team.”

Growing up and watching his father run Ferris is a continued source of inspiration for Van Tongeren.

“Work ethic was instilled in our house at a pretty young age,” he said. “Seeing the amount of effort that it takes to run a business has certainly been something that I’ve always appreciated from him.”

Meanwhile, Ferris will celebrate its centennial in 2024. 

“We could not be more excited about the centennial birthday for Ferris,” Van Tongeren said. “It’s a unique situation because our company, although it’s 100 years old, has energy in it. A lot of our team members are young and hungry and excited for what the future holds.”

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