Gurley's Foods under local ownership again; was owned by private equity firms for 27 years

Tom Taunton of Willmar is the new owner of Gurley's Foods in Willmar. His father Bill was a co-owner at one time. The private equity firm that owned the company had tried to sell the company and considered closing it down when Taunton made his offer.

Gurley's Foods employees work in the candy packaging facility site off Highway 12 East Wednesday afternoon in Willmar. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — Gurley’s Foods of Willmar once again has local ownership.

Tom Taunton, of Willmar, closed the purchase of the company Monday, ending 27 years of ownership by several different private equity firms. The sale prevented the potential closing of the company.

The company operates a nut roasting plant and a candy packing plant. The candy plant packages more than 40 varieties of candy. Its brands include Gurley’s, Golden Recipe, Farmer’s Market and Mountain Country.

Taunton, formerly the company’s vice president and general manager, said the sale includes both plant locations in Willmar — a nut roasting plant and a candy packing plant. The business has a deep history in the community. It was founded in 1953 and employs nearly 50 people. He has worked at the company since 1987.


“It’s finally back in local hands, so we can do some reinvestment into the business,” Taunton said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Gurley’s was fortunate over the years in that the private equity firms left the company alone for the most part, Taunton said. They took over some purchasing and marketing decisions, moving away from local vendors.

“Now, we can go back to local, which I like to do,” Taunton said. “It’s a $2 million payroll guaranteed to stay here, in the middle of this pandemic; it’s some very positive news for Willmar.”

“I plan to look at hiring somebody in marketing, we haven’t had one for 20-plus years,” he said.

“We have a very good foundation of employees,” he added, and there are no other major changes planned right now.

Taunton said the last equity firm to own Gurley’s, Hearthside Food Solutions LLC based in Chicago, had let him know earlier this year that they wanted to sell the company but couldn’t find a buyer “because we’re not large enough.”

Though the company has always been profitable, the plan was to shut it down, “which is awful,” Taunton said.

He suggested they try other family-owned businesses that might be interested, but when the pandemic came, that didn’t happen.


“I just out of the blue made them an offer (in late May), and they accepted it with a little bit of negotiation,” he said. “It’s a great feeling for me and for my employees.”

Taunton, 60, is married and lives in Willmar. He and his wife, Jane, have three young adult children.

He is the son of Bill Taunton, a former co-owner of Gurley's. Taunton said he told his dad over the phone, since he's spending the pandemic at his ranch in South Dakota. "I could hear him smile," he said.

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: or phone 320-214-4340
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