Aptly located in the heart of the Old South, Old Mansion Foods Inc. has provided quality coffee and tea, spices and seasonings, custom mixes and blends to the food service, industrial and retail markets since its inception in 1877.
The Petersburg, Va.-based company embraces the unique culture of old-fashioned Southern delicacies in a place where comfort food reigns supreme. Connoisseurs of fried chicken, steak, pork or fish need look no further than Old Mansion Foods, as the company’s breadings and seasonings are used by some of the largest meat, poultry and seafood processors in the world, Vice President of Sales Tom Mullen says.
In many cases, the company’s relationships with its customers have spanned several decades, which is a testament to Old Mansion’s reliability and reputation for quality, he notes. These attributes, as well as its long-standing presence in the Southern marketplace, provide Old Mansion a competitive advantage and will secure its success for centuries to come.
Coming Full Circle
From its humble roots as a Virginia coffee roaster to its leading position as a Southern spice importer, Old Mansion’s history is as rich and full of depth as its extensive product line, Mullen says. The Antrim family established the company in September 1877 as Antrim & Bowie, and it was originally located in the historic part of downtown Richmond, Va.
After a roaster fire destroyed the plant in 1939, the company relocated to the business district of downtown Richmond near the James River. “During World War II, the markets became extremely volatile and the company’s existence depended on imports of coffee, tea and spices from around the world,” Mullen says. “Times were tough, but the firm persevered and was able to provide invaluable service to its country and continue to offer unsurpassed service and quality to its customers.” In 1960, the company changed its name to Old Mansion, which, at the time, was its flagship brand. Under the new name, it continued to prosper and maintain leadership roles in important industry associations such as the Southern Coffee Association and the Virginia Manufacturers Association.
In 1984, the Patton family acquired the company and moved its operations to Petersburg. “The current president and owner of the company, Dale Patton, had been working in the plant during the day, whether it was on the dock, driving forklifts, shipping and receiving – anything they needed him to do,” Mullen says. “At night, he was attending Virginia Commonwealth Academy to get his master’s degree in business.
“At the time, the company was primarily a retail-based company with some foodservice and industrial business, but staying in the retail business at the time was capital intensive and required a lot of equipment updates,” he continues. “As a result, it was having financial difficulties, which opened up the opportunity for the Patton family to acquire the business. The company then began focusing on food service and industrial, and started phasing out retail.”
While many importers have suffered during the recession, Old Mansion Foods had approximately 30 percent growth last year. “We attribute that to the fact that the markets we call on have experienced growth,” Mullen says. A significant portion of the company’s revenues is achieved through private labeling for customers “looking to establish their own identity and separate themselves from some of the standard brands,” he notes.
“We’ve been helping some of the broad liners identify their companies with a private label targeting the Hispanic market, which has grown quite a bit in the last 10 years. We went from supplying Hispanic distributors to supplying domestic distributors entering into the Hispanic market. We have a lot of people come to us with concepts, and we help them turn their concepts into market-ready products. It’s a shared cost and, many times, worth the investment.”
To accommodate its growth, Old Mansion Foods moved to a 15-acre campus, which now includes its corporate headquarters, product development, warehouse, spice manufacturing and blending operations all under one roof. Within this 137,000-square-foot building, 25,000 square feet are devoted to administrative and sales offices, a full R&D restaurant test kitchen, staff dining and a microbiology lab.
“At the same time, we’ve decided to run the old equipment at the existing facility, which gave us the unique ability to not have to work through some of the glitches of the new equipment knowing we had the other equipment over there running simultaneously,” Mullen says. “The new facility was designed to be in compliance with today’s food safety and quality requirements. It has an excellent air-handling system that keeps dust activity down in our blending facility and allows us to have a well-maintained, sterile packaging environment. And we have so much more room to grow now.”