5 years ago

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

Sister-Shubert1

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

Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator taking applications for 2021 class

Startups from around the world are encouraged to apply for the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator 2021 class.

In its second year, the innovative program, located in Birmingham, seeks early-stage startups focused on emerging energy technologies. Areas of interest include smart cities, electric grid resiliency and sustainability, industrial electrification, connectivity and electric transportation.

The class will run for 13 weeks and include 10 companies. Through their participation in Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator, startups will receive seed investment, business coaching and mentorship through Techstars’ worldwide network of business leaders.

152

At the end of the 90 days, the program will culminate in Demo Day, a public pitch event on Dec. 9.

“We had a fantastic first year, made successful through the hard work and creativity of our inaugural class, even during a pandemic,” said Nate Schmidt, Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator’s managing director. “If you have an energy tech startup, you simply don’t want to miss out on the amazing opportunities and relationships this accelerator will provide your business.”

Techstars Alabama is supported by Alabama Power, the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, the Alabama Department of CommerceAltecPowerSouth and the University of Alabama. They play a key role in the accelerator process, with the common goal of growing the number of startup companies based in Alabama and making the area a hub of innovation activity.

The application deadline is May 12. For more information, visit the Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator program page at Techstars.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 hours ago

VIDEO: Gov. Ivey extends mask mandate, lottery could be an option as gambling bill languishes, Merrill backs off ‘no excuse’ absentee balloting and more on Alabama Politics This Week …

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and political consultant Mecca Musick take you through Alabama’s biggest political stories, including:

— Did Governor Kay Ivey make the right decision when she extended the mask mandate?

— Is the Alabama Legislature going to look to move forward with the lottery if they can’t get a more comprehensive gambling bill?

— Why did Secretary of State John Merrill support and then retract his support for “no excuse” absentee voting?

94

Jackson and Musick are joined by Matt Murphy of Talk 99.5 in Birmingham to discuss the issues facing the state of Alabama this week.

Jackson closes the show with a “Parting Shot” at Alabama Democratic Party Chairman and State Representative Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) for not following through on his plan to make the party more relevant in Alabama.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN and on Talk 99.5 from 10AM to noon.

6 hours ago

Mo Brooks: Stopping H.R. 1, amnesty keys to winning in 2022 midterms — ‘Then we will be able to neuter Joe Biden’

FLORENCE — With the third month of the 117th Congress now underway, House Democrats have pushed forward in their efforts to pass H.R. 1, which would impose so-called reforms to the country’s voting system.

Also among the priorities for Democrats, who control the White House, House and Senate, are immigration measures that could include amnesty for illegal aliens.

During an appearance at the Shoals Republican Club on Saturday, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) panned those efforts and said he hoped to stymie the progress of House Democrats on those two fronts.

167

Brooks told those in attendance that if Republicans could prove successful in those efforts, it would set the GOP up for wins in the 2022 midterm elections and hamstring President Joe Biden’s push to promote a left-of-center agenda.

“We’ve got to stop H.R. 1, and we’ve got to stop the amnesty and citizenship that Joe Biden has promised,” he said. “If we do those two things, then we’re going to take back the House in 2022. I hope we will take back the Senate in 2022. And then we will be able to neuter Joe Biden over the next two years if we control the House and Senate and set the stage as well for us taking back the White House in 2024 with whoever our nominee may be.”

@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.

8 hours ago

2021 Birmingham Heart Walk goes virtual

COVID-19 has forced many nonprofits to shift gears in their fundraising efforts and the American Heart Association (AHA) is no exception. The AHA’s 2021 Birmingham Heart Walk has been reimagined as a digital experience this year to maintain necessary safety protocols due to the ongoing pandemic.

Through the event design, AHA is striving to get more people moving in Birmingham while continuing to raise life-saving funds and keep participants safe in the process. The Birmingham Heart Walk is Saturday, June 12, from 9-11 a.m. and participants can walk from anywhere.

Leading up to the event, participants are encouraged to track their activity through the “Move More Challenge” using the free Heart Walk activity tracker app that can be downloaded from Apple or Google Play. Once registered, users have 30 days to log minutes, and any activity counts. Top movers and fundraisers will be recognized on Heart Walk day.

270

“The American Heart Association holds a special place in my heart,” said Southern Company Vice President of Technology David Coxwho will chair the walk for the second time. “They have done so much for my family and for my daughter, Emily, who was born with multiple congenital heart defects. I’m pleased to partner with this outstanding organization in their efforts help our community connect and stay active as we adapt to this virtual world.”

More than 600,000 Americans die each year from heart disease, and the risks have only been compacted by the pandemic. Among COVID-19 hospitalizations, 40% are heart or stroke patients, so this year, donations from the Heart Walk will help fast-track COVID-19 research and train front-line workers in addition to the many other research projects and resources funded by the AHA.

Fundraising and activities for the Heart Walk are beginning to ramp up as the warmer months approach.

“Now is the time to sign up, lace up and start fundraising for the 2021 Birmingham Heart Walk,” said Hannah Carroll, Heart Challenge director of the Birmingham AHA. “Signing up now ensures you won’t miss any of the fun this year, like Rally Days and our new activity tracker.”

On Feb. 18, Cox hosted a virtual kickoff for business leaders in the Birmingham area who will be fielding teams at this year’s Heart Walk. He encouraged counterparts to begin their fundraising efforts by saying, “We’re here for a reason – to fight for a world of longer, healthier lives.”

To view Emily’s story, click here. To learn more about the 2021 Birmingham Heart Walk or to create a team, click here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 hours ago

Schoolyard Roots growing stronger, smarter kids in Alabama

When kids participate in the life of a garden, they see the complete cycle of growing food, cooking and preparing it to eat. School gardens are exciting places for kids to learn basic academic subjects, too.

The Tuscaloosa community came together more than 10 years ago to develop a garden-based learning program called the Druid City Garden project, now called Schoolyard Roots.

Schoolyard Roots employs a full-time teaching staff that provides garden lessons for students, as well as professional development training for teachers. The school gardens provide an outdoor experience rare to many students. They are more likely to make healthy choices and try new foods. Students gain a sense of responsibility, to collaborate and work together as a team.

297

“When we see a child’s health and education improve, we know that we’re not only investing in that child’s life today – we’re helping them build a better future,” said Nicole Gelb Dugat, interim executive director. “Schoolyard Roots builds community through food. By increasing access to fresh, locally grown produce, we empower our community to make healthy and sustainable food choices.”

In March 2020, the impact of COVID-19 significantly affected the teaching community. Almost immediately, the Schoolyard Roots team began distributing produce from its gardens directly to local families. By the end of last year, the program had distributed more than 750 pounds of fresh garden vegetables to the community.

“We stewarded our gardens as fresh-air sanctuaries, where children and adults could relax, refocus and reconnect,” said Dugat. “Through it all, we shared vegetables and flowers. We cultivated moments of peace and learned together. We could not have done any of it without our incredible community of supporters.”

They found hope and inspiration in the small miracle of seeds planted by the students. Gardens bring joy, peace and courage in times of struggle. And gardens remind us to have hope for new growth and what is to come.

Schoolyard Roots partners with Tuscaloosa-area elementary schools to bring learning to life through teaching gardens. The nonprofit works in 11 elementary schools across Tuscaloosa County.

Its mission is to build healthy communities through food with the Gardens 2 Schools program.

Gardens support and encourage healthful eating as a key component of children’s physical wellbeing, which can aid their academic and social success, too. The garden is woven through many aspects of a school’s curriculum and adapted for different grade levels.

“The Gardens 2 Schools program cultivates curiosity,” Dugat said. “The program teaches the students how to work together (and) learn self-reliability and compassion.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)