Stick-to-Your-Ribs Meat and Desserts – How One Company Expanded and Diversified During a Worldwide Pandemic

Spartanburg Meat Processing
Written by Cindy Dorn

Admit it. At least once in your life you have seen a commercial advertising juicy, tender, fall-from-the-bone ribs that you swore you could taste and smell through the TV. Ever wonder where they come from? Can you imagine life without them?

In a small but growing city in South Carolina, Spartanburg Meat Processing is churning out their well-loved, fully-cooked, baby back ribs under their Licensed brands, Larry the Cable Guy and TGI Fridays. TGI Friday, already boasting their famous baby back and St. Louis pork ribs, have recently expanded their product line to include chicken tenders and leg quarters, along with meal kits. The additional products have meant both expansion and innovation for Spartanburg Meat Processing.

“Now under the TGI Friday’s brand, we are supplying three chicken tender options in regular, Italian-breaded and Kickin’ Chicken which are found in the frozen food aisles,” shares Joanne LaBounty, Spartanburg Meat’s CEO and Founder. “We’ve also just introduced a meal kit that includes fully-cooked chicken breast fillets with an accompanying two-pound package of mac ‘n cheese.”

While increased business during a pandemic was comforting, it also presented challenges. “In March of 2020 while in the early stages of the virus, customer order quantities started to triple,” says LaBounty. “By April, our normal two-week lead time had grown to ten weeks, which was certainly disappointing for customers trying to market and sell their products.” With steadfast determination and quick thinking, today the company is managing a four-week lead time and maintaining a 99 percent fill rate.

But the rapidly changing dynamics in the food industry were a wake-up call for the need to diversify the company’s food portfolio. It was time to take a serious look at what was changing in the market and then to find innovative ways to adapt to those changes. Business Development Manager, Mallory Smith, proposed some new ideas for the certified woman-owned business and they have translated to double-digit growth for the company.

The first initiative was to create a trade division that could maximize the company’s certifications as both woman-owned and a small business. Coupled with their HUBZone certification, this new aspect of the business opened the gateway to supporting state and federal institutions in their procurement needs. “As a woman-owned, small business in a HUBZone, buying agencies can check off all three of those boxes which helps them meet commitment goals and percentages,” explains LaBounty. “Providing this service is a win/win.”

Via the trading division, the company can now pursue contracts of all sizes including ones that others may overlook. “We had plenty of experience and knowledge in utilizing PPE equipment when the pandemic arose,” LaBounty shares. “That led to an opportunity to become a Tier 1 supplier of PPE equipment to the local BMW plant.”

The second business development initiative was a little bit sweeter – both in product and financial results. The company launched Voulez-Vous Foods, a decadent dessert line geared to an adult audience. The statistics about food and drink consumption habits during COVID are public knowledge – increased eating of comfort food desserts and imbibing of alcoholic beverages. The Voulez-Vous product line combines the two and now offers the aptly-named cakes of Cookies and Cream Martini and Late Night Bourbon. The first utilizes vanilla vodka, while the second contains a top-of-the-line bourbon. Though the alcohol percentage is minimal, a half percent, the combination of sweet comfort food with a splash of intoxication is drawing huge interest in the market.

Spartanburg Meat Processing feels extremely fortunate having retained their team while surviving a global pandemic. In addition to pay increases, the company prides itself in their corporate culture – treating employees like family. Five rounds of bonuses during COVID-19 have proven to be rewarding for employees and the company as a whole. Company leadership understands the importance of incentive programs to retain staff.

As if the global pandemic wasn’t enough of a challenge for Spartanburg Meat Processing, a recent occurrence of African Swine Fever reared its ugly head. The highly-contagious virus affects pigs, but luckily cannot transmit to humans. China lost half the country’s pig livestock in 2018/19 when a devastating transmission swept the country. The result of the current transmission is a tight market for raw materials and a substantial rise in the price of pork.

While keeping their business robust during a pandemic and a swine flu outbreak took a lot of innovative thinking and hard work, Spartanburg Meat already had a good foundation on which to build, having built strong relationships with both customers and suppliers based on their core values. What sets the company apart from others? Many companies espouse their values and commitments, but Spartanburg Meat puts them into action. When it comes to the food industry, competition is strong, and the company’s research and development team works closely with clients to ensure that recipes and flavor profiles align with each customer’s “desired taste”. Add the company’s commitment to transparency, open communication and reliability to the mix and you have the perfect recipe for enhancing customer loyalty.

While many in the food service industry are feeling permanent downsides from the pandemic, Spartanburg Meat Processing is preparing for an expansion. CEO LaBounty states, “The blueprints have been drawn and we are working with an architect and a designer to move forward.” There is also a succession plan in place that will keep the company within the family. “Everything relating to management is set up in perpetuation. It will be a seamless transfer with my son as General Manager, my son-in-law heading up Procurement, my daughter overseeing Accounting, and Mallory, my daughter-in-law, continuing her role in Business Development.” The talents and experience of this next generation will allow the company to keep expanding their wheelhouse, making them even more sustainable going forward.

The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce has recognized Spartanburg Meat Processing with nominations for awards in categories including Top 50 Fastest Growing Companies, Roaring Twenties and Excellence in Business. In 2019, Joanne LaBounty was honored with a Trailblazer Award by the Greater Women’s Business Council.

Recognized as a leader in the meat processing industry, Spartanburg Meat Processing sees its future as one of growth and diversity. “We are still standing,” says LaBounty. “We are your go-to, ready-to-eat, made-to-order meat team. Tell us how we can help you.”

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