The food industry is continuously evolving and John Soules Foods has proven it is up for the challenge by creating more value-added products and installing additional production lines to meet demand.
“We are committed to quality, consistency and adaptability,” John Soules Jr. says. “We have not remained the same company at any point in our history and are constantly looking at what’s out there to make sure we stay current.”
John Soules Sr. started the Tyler, Texas-based company in 1975 as a raw ground beef supplier that delivered directly to local restaurants. His sons, Mark and John, came to work for the company in 1987 and 1993, respectively. In the early 1990s, the company operated two small plants and brought in about $12 million in revenue until John Soules Foods’ world came crashing down.
“On April 1, 1994, it was April Fool’s Day and Good Friday all in one, the main plant caught fire and burned to the ground,” Soules Jr. says. “It was the raw ground beef plant that burned for about three days. We went through very trying times.”
Raw ground beef was the company’s main product at the time. Three years prior to the fire, the company started selling raw marinated products. When the main plant burned down, John Soules Foods only had marinated products to sell and Soules says at the time it was “sink or swim” with that product. “We actually did pretty well during that time and it raised our eyebrows,” he remembers. “Maybe we should be looking at more value-added products rather than just ground beef.”
By 1996, John Soules Foods began operations in a newly constructed 83,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility on 67 acres that was USDA inspected. In 2000, the company finally made the decision to eliminate its raw ground beef lines and focus on all value-added products. With that change in product, the focus became expansions to the facility, increasing the space to 115,000 square feet. This space supported two small cooked, solid muscle, beef and chicken production lines.
“We gave up 20 percent of our business, but it was the way we thought we would grow the quickest,” Soules says. “Looking back, it was a smart decision and worked out very well. In 2006, we doubled our size to 250,000 square feet and added two high-speed, high-capacity cook lines. We continue that growth today as the company has experienced 30 percent organic growth each of the last two years.”
Committed to Quality
Food safety is the No. 1 priority at John Soules Foods. During production, the company will remove product from the line at random once per hour and send it to a third-party lab to be tested. All the product from that line is held until it receives negative pathogen results. “We feel good about what we deliver to the marketplace and our product is as safe as we can make it,” Soules notes.
Production lines are equipped with real-time quality assurance systems that continuously record data. Bluetooth thermometers are synced with the system and numbers are reported onto a spreadsheet for operators to see and analyze temperature trends. “Real-time data feeding back to oven operators allows them to make small tweaks rather than major adjustments,” Soules explains. “Someone saying it’s too hot or cold can result in an overreaction and turning the oven up or down too much. Consistency is important and the real-time data helps us control temperature, color and piece size.”
One of the major challenges John Soules Foods is facing today is smaller herd sizes. “Herds are the smallest they have been since the ’50s. Our current product mix is about 65 percent poultry and 35 percent beef products,” Soules says. “Our growth over the last few years has definitely come from the poultry channel. Beef will continue to be a challenge. I think there is also a push to move to simpler, cleaner labels.”
John Soules Foods has been focused on moving towards all-natural products over the past six months and plans to introduce a more natural product to the market next year. “That will be a change versus where we are today,” Soules notes. “We took on sodium a few years ago and were way ahead of that trend. This is our next challenge and we have made really good progress, but it takes time.”
A six-person research and development team is challenged daily by its customers to deliver an all-natural product and new value-added products. The team is always looking at ways to improve and create new products. “They are looking at what’s going on in the market, in restaurants and new trends that make sense,” Soules explains.
Because John Soules Foods has never stayed stagnant in its history, the company last year acquired Pro View Foods, a Gainesville, Ga.-based fully cooked poultry-processing plant. “It was a great acquisition for us from a people and product standpoint,” Soules attests.
ProView Foods was of particular interest to John Soules Foods because it produces breaded products. “We wanted to buy the company to diversify our product line and expand our customer base,” Soules says. “One of the first things we did was put in a new high-volume production line in Gainesville to add more capacity there. It’s a first-class, state-of-the-art line and that’s the type of product it will produce for us.”
At its headquarters, John Soules Foods added a new production line to meet increasing demands. “Our goal is to sell out the line that we just put in and we have the ability to add a fourth line at John Soules Foods,” Soules says. “We hope this is something we are talking about in the next year or two to expand for more capacity.”