4 years ago

APPETITE FOR GROWTH: Alabama food companies are booming, expanding operations

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Companies across Alabama are investing millions of dollars in new and expanded specialty food processing operations that tap into growing national trends.

From pickled okra and salsa in Pike County to dehydrated fruits and vegetables in Foley, the projects were part of a record year of economic development for the state in 2015, with overall announcements that totaled $7 billion and 20,000 jobs.

They seek to capitalize on the popular push among consumers to eat more locally sourced foods. At the same time, they’re providing employment and investment in Alabama’s rural areas, as well as new avenues for the state’s farmers to bring their own products to market.

“Alabama’s roots are in agriculture, so food processing operations are a natural way to grow the state’s economy,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “These businesses are also poised to benefit from the latest consumer food trends.”

Bon Secour Valley Ingredients dehydrates fruits and vegetables , including chicory, and turns them into flours and powders. (Image: BSVI)
Bon Secour Valley Ingredients dehydrates fruits and vegetables , including chicory, and turns them into flours and powders. (Image: BSVI)


SUSTAINABLE APPROACH

In Baldwin County, Bon Secour Valley Ingredients is a new company that will dehydrate fruits and vegetables and also mill them into flours and powders. Products will include sweet potatoes, chicory, carrots and kale, sourced from farms in Alabama or elsewhere in the Southeast.

The $8 million, 65-job operation in Foley is scheduled to start up this summer.

BSVI is a new division of the Woerner Companies, a family agriculture business that primarily sells turf products.

“We’re trying to move into sustainable agriculture and to do that, dehydration and food ingredients are where it’s at,” said Christina Woerner McInnis.

BSVI will use local produce that’s not pretty enough to make the cut for supermarket shelves but still has the same taste and quality. The result will be new markets for produce that might otherwise go to waste, McInnis said, particularly when it’s turned into powders.

“We could sell it to a food company that might put it in a soup or to a company that would put it in a dog treat,” she said.

Bon Secour Valley Ingredients’ chicory after processing.
Bon Secour Valley Ingredients’ chicory after processing.

Mike Murphy, general manager for BSVI, said the business aims to capture some of the massive food waste that occurs in distribution channels, estimated at 1.3 billion tons globally.

“A third of the food that’s grown in the world never makes it to the fork,” he said.

INVESTMENT ON THE MENU

Another new company is iSpice, which is investing $9 million in the Clarke County town of Jackson, where it is renovating a building. While the facility will mainly be a packaging operation, it also will have grinding and blending capabilities.

Large retailers and food service companies will be iSpice’s key customers. Operations are expected to begin this summer.

In Pike County, Southern Classic Food Group in Brundidge is starting a new division called Magnolia Vegetable Processors, which is scheduled to begin producing pickled okra in August, followed by pickles and pickle relish.

“For years, we’ve had people ask us about whether we do pickles, and we’ve always used pickles as an ingredient in our tartar sauces and Thousand Island dressing,” said Chuck Caraway, president of Southern Classic Food Group.

The company is spending $5.5 million on the project and plans 60 new jobs. In the second phase, the plan is to make salsa, now the No. 1 condiment in the U.S.

An expansion also is under way in the main business, Caraway added. The company is spending $3.2 million and adding 21 jobs in a project that is installing a new production line for fruit juices.

Southern Classic Food Group makes a wide range of condiments, the largest being mayonnaise, that is sold to retail, food service and industrial customers that use it in chicken, potato and pasta salads.

GROWING OPERATIONS

Other established food producers in Alabama are expanding, too.

Jeff and Peggy Sutton operate the To Your Health Sprouted Wheat Co. in Bullock County.
Jeff and Peggy Sutton operate the To Your Health Sprouted Wheat Co. in Bullock County.

In Bullock County, To Your Health Sprouted Flour Co. has a $3 million, 20-job project.

The company, launched 10 years ago by Bullock County native Peggy Sutton, is the world’s biggest producer of organic sprouted grains and flours with more than 50 products. Current production averages 50,000 pounds per week.

Sprouted products have surged in popularity in recent years, thanks to their taste and nutritional benefits, and the total market is expected to soon eclipse $250 million in revenues.

To Your Health Sprouted Flour Co. exports to several countries and counts among its customers big names such as Kashi, Nature’s Path, Amy’s Kitchen and Whole Foods Market.

The well-known Sister Schubert’s brand, maker of dinner rolls, sausage wraps and other baked goods sold in thousands of stores across the U.S., also continues to invest in its Alabama operations. The most recent is a $2.2 million wellness center at the company’s bakery in Luverne.

The facility features comfortable chairs, big-screen TVs, showers, vending machines and large windows that bring in plenty of light, said Patricia “Sister Schubert” Barnes.

“This is an affirmation of how important our employees are to us,” she said. “When they take a break, they need something like this. At the same time, we’re constantly adding things to the bakery and improving it.”

Barnes said there are new products on the horizon for Sister Schubert’s, but it’s too early to talk about them. She feels blessed to be in Alabama, and she considers herself an ambassador for state-made products.

“I love all Alabama products and I do often go to seminars and give speeches and help people who are trying to start another business here,” Barnes of Sister Schubert said. “It’s a real joy for me to be able to inspire people to do what I did 25 years ago.”

2 hours ago

Anheuser-Busch donating hand sanitizer to Alabama polling places

Anheuser-Busch is helping to brew democracy this fall.

The famous American beermaker is producing and donating more than 8 million ounces of hand sanitizer to polling places across the country.

A partnership between Anheuser and the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) is helping to bring some of that free sanitizer to precincts in Alabama.

Secretary of State John Merril, Alabama’s chief elections official, says his office has distributed 1,579 gallons of hand sanitizer among 44 counties that requested the substance. Merill is heavily involved in NASS, including currently serving as the organization’s vice chair for the southern region.

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“It is critical that counties are supplied with adequate sanitation supplies, personal protective equipment, and other items necessary to protect voters, poll workers, and others involved in the electoral process,” he said in a release on Friday morning.

Facilities that create alcoholic beverages have the ability to switch to making alcohol-based hand sanitizer quickly. It is a substance easily made with the equipment and materials on hand at such beverage producers.

Breweries and distilleries in Alabama and across the nation switched to making sanitizer for a time when the coronavirus began spreading in the United States this past spring.

Cesar Vargas, Anheuser-Busch chief external affairs officer, remarked in a statement, “Anheuser-Busch is committed to uniting our communities, strength­ening our democracy and encouraging even greater participation in the political process.”

“One part of this commitment is shifting our production capabilities to donate hand sanitizer so that election officials and voters throughout the country can take part in a safe election this fall,” he added.

Anheuser has donated over 500,000 bottles of hand sanitizer since COVID-19 reached the United States.

Additional groups helping to distribute the sanitizer are the National Association of State Election Directors and the online payments company PayPal.

Grace Newcombe, press secretary for the secretary of state’s office, told Yellowhammer that “because such a high volume of hand sanitizer was requested, PayPal provided an additional 630 bottles of hand sanitizer on top of those provided by Anheuser-Busch.”

Merrill credited the multi-group partnership with helping to make it so that “voters can confidently head to the polls on Election Day to cast their ballot in a safe and sanitary environment.”

The general election will occur on November 3; Alabama’s precincts will be open for voters from 7:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

2 hours ago

How to vote if you test positive for COVID-19 before Election Day

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall has issued guidance for voters who receive a positive coronavirus test between Friday, October 30, and the day before the election, Monday, November 2.

Marshall says that a positive COVID-19 test during that period qualifies a voter to apply for an emergency absentee ballot.

Such ballots, and the system to get one, already exist in Alabama law.

Citizens who test positive may designate an adult to assist with the emergency absentee ballot process, meaning an individual who tests positive will be able to remain in quarantine and still vote.

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The voter’s designee can deliver the emergency ballot application, pick up that ballot and bring it to the voter, and return the filled out ballot to the absentee election manager.

The space to assign the designee is at the bottom of the emergency absentee ballot application.

Voters can access an emergency absentee ballot application here, and citizens can find the address for their county’s absentee election manager here.

An application for an emergency absentee ballot requires the signature of a physician, or a physician can issue a signed report, and the voter can include that with their application.

Applications for an emergency absentee ballot must be turned in by the close of business on Monday, November 2.

Filled out emergency absentee ballots must be returned to the county absentee election manager by noon on Election Day.

In a typical year, emergency absentee ballots are used by individuals who find out suddenly that they must undergo a serious medical procedure on Election Day, or people who have their employer send them out of town for business at the last minute.

There appears to be no alternative to voting in person for someone who receives a positive coronavirus test result on Election Day.

The last day to apply for a standard absentee ballot was Thursday, October 29, creating the relatively narrow window of time for which Marshall has issued guidance.

People can also contact their absentee election managers by phone to get more details on hours of operation or answers to any questions they have about their emergency absentee ballot application.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

Setting the record straight on Baldwin County’s toll fallacies

Baldwin County voters will head to the polls in just a matter of days to cast their vote on a full ballot, including several local amendments which will influence various aspects of residents’ everyday living. Of the four local amendments on this year’s ballot is Local Amendment 2, which I co-authored, and which proposes the creation of the Baldwin Beach Express II (BBEII), extending the northern end of the current Baldwin Beach Express to link I-10 with I-65 (the project).

If approved by the voters of Baldwin County, a toll authority would be established on this new stretch of road to pay for the construction and continual maintenance of the roadway. The toll authority would only be granted jurisdiction over the BBEII, and no other road, leaving drivers the choice to take this new roadway or continue using their everyday roadways just as they have been doing for years, still free of charge. We anticipate the new road will be available for use in five to eight years.

Due to the four-letter word “toll,” opposition has taken to various platforms urging Baldwin County voters to reject Local Amendment 2. However, these opposing voices misrepresent crucial aspects and facts of Local Amendment 2 that make the BBEII a safe and sound move for Baldwin County. While similar initiatives have appeared on ballots in years past, this year elected officials are asking Baldwin County voters to vote yes on this new roadway. The proposed BBEII is a totally different, locally controlled toll authority.

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This amendment is appearing on this year’s ballot in a timely manner. If not voted on this year, it is likely the amendment would not be presented to the public for at least another two years. Moreover, construction of the approved roadway would not finish until five to eight years after the initial vote. This is time we simply do not have when dealing with matters of infrastructure, county growth, safety, and economic opportunity.

Since 2014, our county’s population has grown nearly 50%. The time to invest in our future infrastructure is now and doing so will assure that we are able to support and sustain Baldwin County’s potential growth for years to come.

Recently, it has been suggested that Baldwin County voters will be giving lawmakers a blank check to construct this new roadway. The blank spaces found in the legislation are put in place due to the introduction of contingent acts. In other words, this amendment cannot be considered an act until final passage, and until Baldwin County votes “yes” on Local Amendment 2.

False assertions have also been made regarding the makeup of the toll authority members and their powers. The proposed act clearly requires that the Toll Authority Directors be appointed by the Baldwin County Commission and will serve a maximum six-year term limit. Toll Authority Directors will be held accountable by the Baldwin County Commission and may be subject to impeachment by the County Grand Jury, District Attorney or the Alabama Attorney General. The legislation also includes a provision of law (page 23, line 17) that prohibits nepotism, ensuring the Toll Authority Directors are acting on behalf of the common good for Baldwin County.

A yes vote on Local Amendment 2 will only improve our way of life in Baldwin County. We may continue using the existing free routes as we have been doing, free of charge, and will never have to be concerned with any toll. Your tax dollars are not going toward this project. Rather, the roadway extension will be 100% paid for by the toll itself, if and only if you choose to drive on the BBEII. Drivers who opt to take their regular free routes will never have to pay the toll fee.

This local amendment offers strengthened infrastructure to keep up with our rapidly growing population, secures an additional north-bound evacuation route, and will bring new job and economic development opportunities to our region.

Please, join me in voting yes on Local Amendment 2.

Alabama State Representative Steve McMillan represents District 95 and serves as Chairman of the Baldwin County Legislative Delegation.

7 hours ago

7 Things: Only 13 coronavirus deaths in Alabama without pre-existing conditions, Jones’ voting record is closer to Schumer than Shelby, vaccine info by December and more …

7. Stephen King’s Twitter isn’t IT

  • It’s no secret that famed author Stephen King has been politically outspoken, especially in more recent years. Now, he’s calling out former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville for not being willing to debate U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL).
  • King on Wednesday tweeted, “Tommy Tuberville wouldn’t even debate Doug Jones. Hey, Alabama, do you know a chicken___ when you see one? Or – ha-ha—when you DON’T see one?” This came right after Tuberville was a no-show at the debate event co-hosted by the College Democrats and Republicans at Auburn University, which Jones attended.

6. Walmart is removing guns

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  • Due to continued civil unrest in Philadelphia, Walmart has decided to remove firearms and ammunition from the sales floor in stores throughout the United States. Store spokesperson Kory Lundberg said this is being done as a “precaution.”
  • The firearms and ammunition will still be available for purchase, but they’ll no longer be on display. Lundberg also noted that this has been “done on several occasions over the last few years” in times of civil unrest.

5. Biden campaign refuses to address Hunter Biden issues

  • There has been further confirmation that the FBI has an open investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter. In spite of that, the Biden campaign continues to not even address the issue and declare that they will not engage in questions about the matter.
  • During an interview with financial outlet Cheddar, the Biden campaign’s national press secretary Jamal Brown was asked to respond to the allegations made by Hunter Biden’s former business partner Tony Bobulinksi. He responded by declaring the question off-limits, saying, “We’re not going to waste any time on this smear campaign. It’s just another distraction from Trump’s failed leadership.” Instead of receiving further grilling, the anchor responded by saying, “Fair enough.”

4. Democrats could take the Senate

  • Sheffield, AL’s own Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been very honest about where the Senate stands, and he’s said that there’s a “50-50” chance that Republicans could lose control of the Senate.
  • McConnell also said that looking “at the Democrat Party today, you out to be frightened. We’re fighting for our way of life.” He has remained confident that he’ll win reelection in Kentucky.

3. We’ll know more about vaccines by December

  • As one of the leading infectious disease experts and members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Dr. Anthony Fauci told the University of Alabama at Birmingham during a virtual coronavirus research symposium that we’ll have more information on a vaccine for the virus in the coming months.
  • Fauci advised, “[B]y the end of November to the beginning of December, we will know – based on the size of the trial and rate of infections that are going on in this country – if we will have a safe and effective vaccine.” Facui added that he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the vaccine.

2. Jones is closer to Schumer

  • FiveThirtyEight.com has released a “Trump Score” for how closely members of the legislature have voted with President Donald Trump, and U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) only scored 34.8% since taking office in 2018.
  • For comparison, U.S. Senators Angus King (I-ME) and Mark Werner (D-VA) scored closely with Jones at 37.9% and 35.5%, respectively, but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) scored 23.4%, U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) had 22.6%, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) had 20.3% and U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) scored 23.0%.

1. Cases and hospitalizations are on the rise

  • There have been spikes with the coronavirus across the globe, the United States saw its biggest day ever yesterday. Alabama is now seeing an increase in both cases and hospitalizations, but both numbers are far below the peak of the pandemic Alabama saw in July.
  • The Alabama Department of Public Health is now reporting that there have only been 13 deaths from the coronavirus that didn’t have any underlying health conditions as a contributing factor, which is due to a change in criteria that dropped the number from 130 to 13. This isn’t to say this isn’t a big deal, but it does mean that it is even more important to protect the vulnerable as we continue to safely reopen.

8 hours ago

State Sen. Albritton: ‘Still questions’ on Ivey prison proposal locations, including Escambia County site

Two of the three locations named in Governor Kay Ivey’s recently announced prison proposal have received a degree of public pushback from local residents.

A location near Brierfield had been the subject of public scrutiny by Bibb County and nearby Shelby County residents. Elected officials in Elmore County have also expressed concern over a site near Tallassee.

The third site in Escambia County near Atmore had been seemingly free of controversy. However, according to State Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore),whose district includes the proposed Escambia County location, that is not necessarily the case.

During an interview with Mobile radio’s FM Talk 106.5, Albritton said there were some issues he and others were attempting to iron out with the Alabama Department of Corrections on the southern proposed site.

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“I spoke with Commissioner Dunn yesterday about this very issue, and there are still questions out there about all three of the sites selected, and we’re still trying to get some answers on some things,” he said. “But Jeff, we have got to have new prisons. There’s just no doubt that some construction has got to be done. We tried several times on the legislative side to put through a plan, and both times that we got it through the Senate and down to the House, the House killed it. The latest one, it had been through the House, it had been through the Senate. It had even been through the conference committee in the Senate and the House wouldn’t take it out of the basket. It just died. The governor — we challenged her, and she challenged us and said if I could depend on the legislature pass something, fine. But you haven’t. We’ve got to have a plan. At least the Governor has a plan. Whether I like it or don’t like it, it is a better plan than what we have right now.”

The Escambia County lawmaker said there had been complaints but said they had chosen not to take a public approach to their response.

“Of course, we’ve gotten complaints,” Albritton said. “We’ve got all unique circumstances. We have been pushing back. We haven’t been pushing back publicly. We have had discussions, and that was part of the discussion yesterday. We are trying to work out some of the details and finalize some of the matters and get some answers. But I did not see any particular gain in going public in this fight. We just need to try to work it out the best we could.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.