3 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.”

14 mins ago

Birmingham’s Sidewalk Cinema and Film Center capital campaign making impressive progress — Still more work to be done

Sidewalk Film Festival representatives on Thursday provided an impressive update and a call to action regarding the “Make Movie Magic” capital campaign for construction of the Sidewalk Cinema and Film Center in Birmingham’s “The Pizitz” building.

To date, $4.2 million of the projected total of $4.9 million for the center’s development has been raised through contributions from Birmingham-area individuals, corporations and local government entities. The project most recently was boosted by the Birmingham City Council’s generous donation of $200,000.

273

While the capital campaign’s progress has been tremendous, there is still more work to be done to get to the finish line.

“April 2019 marked two years since the inception of fundraising efforts, and while we are proud of our progress — and appreciative of those providing financial support — we will be aggressive in our efforts as we work to secure another $750,000 in the coming months,” Chloe Cook, Sidewalk Film Festival executive director, explained in a statement.

This comes as the 21st Annual Sidewalk Film Festival is set for August 19-25 in downtown Birmingham.

If the center’s construction stays on schedule, the planned two-screen, 100-seats-per-screen Sidewalk Film Center + Cinema will serve as an official screening venue during the nationally lauded Birmingham festival.

“We are three months out from our open-and-operational deadline,” Edgar Marx Jr., capital campaign chair, outlined. “It is paramount that the Birmingham and Central Alabama community come together to take what will be a pivotal community asset across the funding finish line.”

In addition to use during the Sidewalk Film Festival, the Film Center + Cinema will screen films daily and will provide in-house education in technology and film — enhancing the revitalization to Birmingham’s downtown and adding to city residents’ quality of life.

“Supporting this campaign isn’t about a one-week festival, rather it is support for a better, brighter Birmingham for all of us,” Cook concluded. “This center will be an icon of immense pride and a key attraction for residents of and visitors to the Magic City alike.”

You can find more information here and donate here.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

44 mins ago

‘The American Taliban’ released early from federal prison over objections of Alabama officials, Spann family

John Walker Lindh, a.k.a. “The American Taliban,” on Thursday was released years early from federal prison, despite the objections of Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), President Donald Trump, the entirety of the Alabama legislature and the family of Johnny Micheal “Mike” Spann, who was an Alabamian and the first American known to be killed in “The War on Terror” in Afghanistan after 9/11.

After being captured in Afghanistan in 2001, Lindh pled guilty to serving as a soldier of the Taliban. He was sentenced to 20 years in a federal penitentiary in 2002 for his role in the death of Spann, a Winfield native and Auburn University alumnus then serving as a CIA officer.

Lindh was released prematurely from federal custody in Indiana on Thursday. As of a 2017 Foreign Policy article, Lindh still intended to spread terrorist ideology upon his release from prison.

CNN has reported that Lindh will live in Virginia under set restrictions.

386

Alison Spann, the late Alabamian’s daughter, recently wrote a letter to the president calling Lindh’s early release “a slap in the face — not only to my father and my family but, but for every person killed on Sept. 11th, their families, the U.S. military, U.S. [intelligence] services, families who have lost loved ones to this war and the millions of Muslims worldwide who don’t support radical extremists.”

In an interview with Fox News, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned Lindh’s early release as “unexplainable and unconscionable” and followed Shelby in calling for a review of prison system policies.

Restrictions placed on Lindh, according to the Associated Press, include that “Lindh’s internet devices must have monitoring software; his online communications must be conducted in English; he must undergo mental health counseling; he is forbidden to possess or view extremist material; and he cannot hold a passport or leave the U.S.”

His release came only a day after NBC reported that Lindh, in a letter to a producer from Los Angeles-based affiliate KNBC, wrote in 2015 that the Islamic State group is “doing a spectacular job” and “is clearly very sincere and serious about fulfilling the long-neglected religious obligation to establish a caliphate through armed struggle.”

Yellowhammer News on Wednesday learned that Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) imminently will file legislation to ensure convicted terrorists like Lindh are never released early from federal custody in the future.

On Lindh, Byrne has tweeted, “This man was held responsible for the horrific death of an Alabama CIA officer, and now he is getting out of jail early for good behavior. This is just so wrong!”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 hour ago

Huntsville Hospital lets children drive toy cars into surgery, goes beyond medical care

Huntsville Hospital is helping kids with much more than their medical needs.

WHNT on Wednesday reported, “Hospitals can be a scary place for anyone, but especially for kids. Huntsville Hospital has child life specialists whose sole job is to help the children there beyond their medical needs. Making a trip to the hospital, not only bearable but even fun.”

One of the favorite features for young patients at Huntsville Hospital is that children are allowed to drive toy cars right into surgery.

Additionally, the hospital waiting room has become more like a game room, with interactive games projected onto the floor for kids to play with while waiting.

315

“So this is kind of one of those things that keeps their mind off everything before they have to go back,” Haley Franks, a pediatric ER registered nurse, told WHNT. “Especially if they have any kind of procedures or anything they are able to kind of play out here in the lobby and have some fun while they’re waiting.”

This incredible child life department has been in Huntsville Hospital for over two decades.

“There are some kids that are excited to be here. There are some kids that are really really scared and don’t even want to come in the door, stand on the scale, put on a bracelet,” Michelle Barksdale, a child life specialist, said. “We have all developmental ages and ranges of emotions.”

Specialists like Barksdale are trained in child psychology and development to know how to meet the needs of every individual child.

She said the needs of kids are very different than adults. She said a lot of kids are concrete thinkers they need to see what the surgery room will look like, not just be told.

Barksdale explained that the famous toy car rides even come complete with a unique driver’s license for each child.

“That car is a transition piece from parents who they know, where they’re safe, to people who they don’t know in scrubs,” she added.

For the pediatric staff at Huntsville Hospital, this is a labor of love for those kids. Not only are they working to heal them, the staff truly cares about making kids feel better, too.

“It makes it easier on that transition for the parent as well as the child. Because they know the child is not scared, they’re not crying, they’re not leaving them in a fearful state,” Amanda Rochowiak, a pre-op coordinator, said.

Watch below or here:

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Watch: Mobile’s WKRG anchor Mel Showers signs off for the last time after 50-year run

On Wednesday, long-time Mobile television personality Mel Showers anchored his newscast after a 50-year tenure at WKRG, the market’s CBS affiliate.

Back in March, Showers marked his 50th anniversary with WKRG.

Showers was joined by his family as he signed off Wednesday’s 10 p.m. newscast.

236

“Well, I would like to take just a few moments of your time tonight to say thank you,” Showers said. “I want to thank you for allowing me into your homes for the past five decades — first as a booth announcer, where you heard my voice more than you saw my face, then as a reporter and now as a news anchor. I was honored earlier today by the management and staff of Nexstar in a luncheon. Later today, my son and grandsons flew in from Dallas, Texas. It was a big surprise, and tonight, I want you all to see my family gathered here. I have sisters. I have nephews. I have nieces. I have granddaughters. I have their friends. And I have my WKRG family as well, as you can see them.”

“So, there’s a lot of love here involved in this studio,” he added. “And I want to thank you for tolerating me all these many years. Along with thanking you, I want to thank my family and my friends and my WKRG family, of course, many of whom are here tonight as you see. I will miss you. I love you and may God continue to bless all of you, every one of you. Look at that beautiful family.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

Episode 7: Surviving and thriving with photos and Frosties

Marshall and I share about a plane crash we survived; the characteristics that did or did not draw us to each other; our crazy engagement story; how important it is to communicate – always; how phases are not forever, but marriage is; and how sitting down to stare at your early relationship photos can save your marriage.

>Challenge today: Why did you fall in love in the first place? Have some fun together reminiscing about the great moments in your relationship and never stop learning about the wonderful parts of your partner!

1