By the BF Staff
From the January/February 2022 Issue
The food processing category is taking on more importance as businesses and consumers search for convenient, quality products and cost-effective solutions to getting them to market.
Industry experts stress that being near major transportation hubs and metropolitan areas play big roles in the success of this category. Though they are quick to add that quality and consistency remain the most important factors in this industry. Suppliers get that and are taking strong measures to make sure that they are getting products to market quickly and that quality is first and foremost.
Making things more interesting is growing consumer demand for locally-produced products. Many industry experts predict that this trend will accelerate in the future, giving suppliers both more opportunities to satisfy the customer and creating more challenges for them to meet these needs.
Gloucester County, VA: In the Right Spot for Food Processing
Gloucester, VA is the ideal location for the food processing industry. The county is strategically located 1-hour south-east of Richmond and 2.5 hours from the District of Columbia. Its proximity to Interstate I-64, Port of Virginia, suppliers for food and beverage processors, packagers and bottlers provides business with a cost-effective way of processing food.
Approximately 47% of the U.S. population lives within a one-day drive making it easy to serve East Coast customers. Gloucester’s success in food and beverage processing is evidenced by the companies that have continued to grow and expand in the area.
A trained workforce in the food processing industry is one of the key success factors that Gloucester provides through partnerships with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership’s custom talent and recruitment training program and the Rappahannock Community College, a local state community college.
When blue crabs migrate up the York River every summer, Gloucester watermen follow. For more than 70 years, their workboats have slipped in and out of the waterways. Aberdeen Creek is the county’s second busiest commercial seafood harbor landing more than $3.5 million worth of oysters and crabs each season. The county is home to two seafood plants and several watermen operations providing an abundance of oysters, clams, crabs and striped bass each year to their east coast customers. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) is one of the largest marine research and education centers in the United States. Gloucester enjoys 500 miles of shoreline for both the seafood industry and for recreation.
Another successful food processing industry is gourmet baked goods with numerous businesses providing cakes and pastries. Generations Cakes, the largest gourmet baked goods company in the county, is well known for its mini–Bundt Cakes. The company, started by Marvin and Octavia Townsend, began in 2014 in their home. In 2015 they began providing their cakes to retail giant Whole Foods. During this time, they also moved from their home-based operation to a “bricks and mortar” facility to accommodate their contract obligations.
In 2019, Generations Cakes was awarded its first government contract to supply gourmet baked goods to naval vessels, military installations and shipyards throughout Hampton Roads. Upon receiving this contract, the company expanded its operation a second time adding more equipment and employees allowing the expansion of its flagship baked lines and services.
Gloucester County is home to the nationally known Whitley’s Peanut Factory that opened its doors for business in 1986 on Route 17. That premise was not wrong, and soon the factory outgrew its back room of the store and a new production facility was built. The original building was kept as the Gloucester store location. Two other store locations have been since added, in Williamsburg and Richmond, VA.
In addition to the three retail stores, today the business operates a wholesale and private label division. All of this happens from right here in Gloucester County with about 35 full-time year-round employees plus about 40 additional seasonal workers during the holidays. The main processing plant, corporate office and distribution centers are all located in Gloucester.
“Gloucester County has been a wonderful place to run this business,” says Todd Smith, owner. “And we are looking forward to continued growth here. The location has easy access to transportation and the county is supportive of business development. My son, Brett, has just joined the business, the third generation of the Smith Family to do so, and together we are working on plans for further expansion and growth.”
Charles County, MD: From Farm To Fork
Demand for fresh food and local value-added food products is on the rise, requiring the synchronicity of multiple industries from agriculture to manufacturing, technology to transportation. Home to 385 farms and a dynamic workforce in supporting industries, Charles County’s farm-to-fork culture creates an ideal location for food processing operations.
Harvesting A Healthy Agricultural Economy
Just 30 minutes south of Washington, DC, Charles County is a bright spot in the food industry landscape. Boasting more than 41,000 acres of farmland, Charles County’s agricultural assets are many. An extended growing season, boosted by innovations in nutrient management and soil conservation, yields quality produce, livestock, dairy, and grains from small to mid-sized farms. The national Buy Local Movement has kept the local agricultural industry robust and supply chains short, with plentiful farmers’ markets, farm stores, and community supported agriculture (CSA) harvesting revenues. Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission (SMADC) and University of Maryland Extension provide grants, training, promotion, and support to boost profitability.
With 300 miles of shoreline along the Potomac River, Patuxent River, and their tributaries, Charles County’s commitment to aquaculture is a legacy, with ecologists and producers partnering on conservation techniques to ensure a steady supply of oysters, blue crab, catfish, and striped bass. Partnerships with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Maryland Agricultural and Resource-Based Industry Development Corporation (MARBIDCO) keep waterways and access to capital strong.
A Prime Locale
The county’s location in the center of the Washington, DC-Richmond-Baltimore corridor, with easy access to metro areas north and south, offers a mix of metropolitan and rural assets. Seamless interstate access keeps products moving, with approximately 1.9 million customers in easy reach. Within Charles County, U.S. Route 301 is an efficient alternative to Interstate 95, and the new Nice Middleton Bridge connecting Maryland and Virginia across the Potomac River will double span capacity within a year.
Three major airports—Ronald Reagan National, Dulles International, and Baltimore/Washington International-Thurgood Marshall Airport—are within an hour’s drive. As the leading supplier of rail-based freight service in North America, CSX serves Charles County, running through Waldorf, St. Charles, White Plains, and La Plata. For enterprises seeking water-based transport, the Port of Baltimore—one of only two East Coast ports with a channel to accommodate container ships—sits 50 miles to the north.
DC Metro’s Lowest Cost Commercial Real Estate
Small enterprises seeking retail space and larger operations seeking warehouse, office, and distribution space are equally at home in Charles County. Lease rates are 40% lower than the rest of the Washington, DC metro area, with low real estate taxes and utilities benefitting the bottom line. Flexible zoning and competitive incentives provide the pro-business environment sought by early-stage and established enterprises alike.
A Pipeline Of Available Workforce
Charles County’s talent pipeline is strong, with more than a million well-educated workers within commuting distance. From agricultural management to engineering, accounting to repair technology, more than 7,300 degrees and certificates were recently granted to Charles County residents in relevant areas of study, according to the National Center for Education Statistics in 2019. Supporting industries include:
- Production – Fertile innovation fosters our agricultural operations. A supply of farmers and harvesters energizes agribusiness county-wide.
- Technology – A pool of engineers and information technology professionals keeps systems nimble and e-commerce secure.
- Processing and Manufacturing – A commutable location attracts processors, packagers, and managers. Collaboration with the College of Southern Maryland’s Center for Trades and Energy Training ensures a pipeline of electricians, machinists, plumbers, and construction professionals.
- Warehousing and Distribution – Location and transportation make Charles County a hub for warehousing and distribution from shipping and receiving to materials movement.
- Back Office Services – Bookkeepers and analysts keep businesses ahead of the curve. Sales and customer representatives deliver first-rate service.
Business Resources And Community Support
The Charles County Economic Development Department (EDD) is a front-line source of business support resources. Services include site selection assistance, guidance on financing, access to workforce hiring and training, expedited permitting for qualified projects, and new and expanding business incentives. The EDD also helps businesses connect with partners such as local Chambers of Commerce, workforce board, Small Business Development Center, and education—including K-12, higher ed, and continuing ed.
Together, Charles County’s assets and ecosystem of support put food industry enterprises on a growth trajectory. Regardless of size or target market, local enterprises access the advantages, partnerships, and people essential to success.