Tennessee Builds on Its Reputation for Food and Beverage Excellence | Trade and Industry Development

Tennessee Builds on Its Reputation for Food and Beverage Excellence

Mar 19, 2024 | By: The State of Tennessee

For generations, Tennessee has brought consumers across the globe some of the best-known and most respected food and beverage brands. From whiskey to candy bars, Tennessee brands offer the world a variety of beloved and memorable tastes, including those offered by Jack Daniel’s, M&M’S, Bush’s Beans, MoonPie and Little Debbie. These highly successful brands grew out of Tennessee’s deeply held traditions of agriculture, hospitality and craftsmanship.

The Tennessee beverage industry is especially robust. Tennessee’s $986 million in beverage exports ranked third in the nation in 2023 and first in the Southeast. The state’s $914 million whiskey exports last year were more than double that of every other state.

Today, Tyson Foods, Unilever, McKee Foods, Frito Lay and Green Mountain Coffee are among more than 1,600 registered food and beverage manufacturers operating in Tennessee.

An Ideal Location for Agricultural Export

TNECD Commissioner Stuart C. McWhorter speaks at the Kewpie groundbreaking ceremony in Clarksville, TN, in April 2023. Photo provided by TNECD
TNECD Commissioner Stuart C. McWhorter speaks at the Kewpie groundbreaking ceremony in Clarksville, TN, in April 2023. Photo provided by TNECD

Tennessee’s central location is ideal for the export and transport of food and beverage products. The state’s strong agriculture industry accounts for $5.1 billion in farm cash receipts. In 2023 alone, more than $1.6 billion in Tennessee food and agriculture exports found their way to major markets around the world. The five largest export markets consumed 51 percent of Tennessee’s food and beverage manufacturing exports in 2023.

Today, nearly 47,000 Tennesseans are employed by food and agriculture establishments, and thanks to robust state policies, these numbers are on the rise. Tennessee’s government actively supports growth in the food and agriculture sector, with approximately 50 projects announced since 2018, representing nearly 5,800 new job commitments and more than $2 billion in capital investment.

“Tennessee’s location is unmatched when it comes to logistics. Being able to access 60 percent of the U.S. population in an 11-hour drive or less is a huge factor that weighs on a food and beverage company’s decision to choose Tennessee,” said Edward Burch, director of business development at the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. “Just last year, SK Food Group announced 840 new jobs in Cleveland, Tennessee, because of our ability to showcase a top-tier workforce and our proximity to their customer base.”

“The demand for cold storage continues to be robust in Tennessee,” Burch added. “Wilson County has an opportunity for a brand-new colocation cold storage facility just off I-40 in Lebanon. This building will have four freezer/cooler chambers with temperatures that can be set independently from each other. There is also an existing USDA certified food grade building available in the heart of Memphis. Memphis is already known for logistics as the home of FedEx, but it also has access to the highest quality water in America. These are just some of the quality assets we offer to companies in the food & beverage sector.”

New Projects on the Horizon
In 2023, the State of Tennessee announced several new large-scale projects that will add to its already robust food and beverage sector. These include:

Custom Foods of America Inc. (CFA). In late 2023, CFA, a manufacturer of soups, side dishes, appetizers and sauces, announced an expansion of its manufacturing and distribution operations in Knoxville, Tennessee. CFA plans to create 249 new jobs at its Pleasant Ridge location in Knox County, which will bring its total headcount in the region to approximately 500 people. The expansion will increase CFA’s production and distribution capabilities by adding nearly 200,000 square feet of new space for manufacturing, storage, staging and shipping.

Leclerc Foods Tennessee LLC. In the spring of 2023, Leclerc Foods, a global supplier of specialty cookies, snack bars and crackers, announced that the company will expand manufacturing operations at its U.S. headquarters in Kingsport, Tennessee. Leclerc Foods will invest $3.4 million and create 48 new jobs in Sullivan County. In addition to job creation, the food manufacturer will expand by adding machinery to support a new production line in both of its facilities on Airport Parkway.

MDS Foods, Inc. Also in the spring, premium cheese manufacturer MDS Foods Inc. (MDS Cheese) announced that the company will invest $8.9 million to expand operations at its Tullahoma facility in the Coffee County Joint Industrial Park, a Select Tennessee Certified Site. MDS Cheese will create 75 new jobs in Coffee County as a result of the project. To increase its manufacturing and distribution capabilities, MDS Cheese will add roughly 48,000 square feet of cooler space dedicated to the distribution of finished products and approximately 10,000 square feet of space for new cheese production lines.

Genera. Initially founded under the University of Tennessee System, Genera has grown to become North America’s largest vertically integrated manufacturer of circular compostable packaging solutions for food and consumer products, retail and food service. In December 2023, the company announced that it will invest nearly $350 million to expand production and distribution at its Sustainable Biomaterials Campus in Vonore, Tennessee. Genera will create more than 230 new jobs in Monroe County over the next five years, bringing the company’s total headcount in Tennessee to approximately 350 people. The expansion will add 150,000 square feet to the existing facility and state-of-the-art equipment, including more than 60 robotically controlled thermoforming machines, a fleet of autonomously guided vehicles and automated packaging lines.

SK Food Group. Early in 2023, SK Food Group, an Arizona-based premium custom foods manufacturer, announced that it will invest $205.2 million to construct its fourth production facility in Cleveland, Tennessee. As a result of the project, SK Food Group will create 840 new jobs in Bradley County by 2030. SK Food Group’s new 525,000-square-foot manufacturing facility will support the company’s growing consumer demand by utilizing state-of-the-art automated technology to assist with sandwich assembly and food handling.  Located on Lot 1 in the Spring Branch Industrial Park in Cleveland, construction began in late 2023 and is anticipated to reach completion in 2025.

Building on the Successes of 2022

Genera, an ag-based sustainable fiber and biomaterials company, announced a $350 million expansion project in Vonore, TN, in December 2023. Photo provided by TNECD
Genera, an ag-based sustainable fiber and biomaterials company, announced a $350 million expansion project in Vonore, TN, in December 2023.  
Photo provided by TNECD

These new projects are following the example of other large food and agriculture investments announced in Tennessee in 2022. These projects include:

Kewpie. In November of 2022, Kewpie, one of Japan’s top brands for mayonnaise and salad dressing, announced the planned creation of 85 new jobs in Montgomery County through the Tokyo-based company’s second site for its U.S. subsidiary, Q&B Foods. Located on Corporate Parkway in Clarksville, the $65 million plant will support Kewpie’s expanding market nationwide by increasing the company’s production of mayonnaise, salad dressings and other sauces.

Gold Creek Foods (GCF). In late 2022, officials announced that GCF invested $15 million to establish poultry processing operations in Campbell County. Through the project, GCF created more than 200 new jobs in Caryville following the company’s acquisition of the assets of Campos Foods LLC, which shut down its beef processing operations in early 2022.

Alfresco Pasta. Also in 2022, Nashville, Tennessee-based artisan specialty foods manufacturer Alfresco Pasta invested nearly $4 million in relocation and expansion to Northwest Tennessee. The project represented the creation of 35 new jobs in Crockett County. Since its founding in Nashville in 2000, the company has grown its restaurant, hotel and high-end foodservice customer distribution network to include more than 10 warehouses serving 40 states.

Monogram Assembled Foods, LLC. Finally, in winter of 2022, Monogram Foods announced the establishment of new operations in Dickson, Tennessee, a project that created more than 400 new jobs. The deal represented a $53.5 million investment in the Dickson community. Monogram Foods purchased a building formerly owned by Conagra, which announced in early 2020 its plans to close the facility. As part of Monogram Foods’ acquisition, the facility never closed, and the company offered employment to Conagra’s existing employees so that no jobs were lost during the transition.

A Priority on Food and Agriculture-Related Education
To support the state’s growing agri-business profile, the Tennessee Department of Education’s Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (AFNR) career cluster prepares learners for careers in the planning, implementation, production, management, processing and/or marketing of agricultural commodities and services. Since 2018, Tennessee has benefited from 22,500 food- and agriculture-related graduates joining the workforce. These graduates have gone on to work in agri-business companies that produce food, fiber, wood products, natural resources, horticulture and other plant and animal products, as well as related professional, technical and educational services. The result of the initiative has been an impressive 19 percent job growth in the sector since 2018.

“Tennessee’s success in recruiting companies in the food and beverage and agribusiness industries can be directly tied to our ability to showcase a highly skilled and trained workforce. We see more automation in the processes of these companies; however, there still are significant job numbers that come with these projects. When an agribusiness company visits Tennessee, we bring all our workforce development partners to the table to illustrate our commitment to providing the training that will help ensure their success.”

For more information about Tennessee’s commitment to food and beverage businesses, including incentives, visit: tnecd.com/industries/food-and-agriculture. T&ID


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