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Business & Technology

Food City, Jubilee Project team up to help local food producers sell their products

October 24th, 2008 12:00 am by Rick Wagner

Food City, Jubilee Project team up to help local food producers sell their products



Don Colyer, founder and owner of Tennessee River Barbeque Sauce, and Hazel Tippo, founder and owner of salad dressing maker Hazel & Co., show off their products inside the Food City on Eastman Road. David Grace photo.


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KINGSPORT — If you want some Tennessee River Barbeque Sauce from Kingston, Tenn., or Hazel & Co. salad dressings from Knoxville by way of Monteagle, don’t jump in the car and head toward Knoxville.


Instead, go to the Food City on Eastman Road in Kingsport.


These Tennessee-made products are for sale there, as well as chow chow and other canned items from Davidson Farms. That’s just down the road from Kingsport, near Surgoinsville in rural Hawkins County.


These three producers are among eight regional entrepreneurs who are members of a cooperative based in Sneedville, in Hancock County, northwest of Hawkins County.


As a pilot program that started in August, their products appear in Food City Store No. 605, 1205 N. Eastman Road near the intersection of Eastman Road and Fort Henry Drive in the Crown Point Center. Ed Moore manages the store.


The display of canned items is located on the right side of the store, just below the stairs that lead to the public meeting rooms and before you get to the cafe. However, officials of the pilot program said the canned goods could be expanding to other Food City stores, including ones in Sevier County as early as next spring.


Piloting a program


“This is the only (Food City) store the products are in on a trial basis,” said Steve Hodges, executive director of the 17-year-old, non-profit Jubilee Project Inc. based in Sneedville.


Jubilee, founded in 1991 by the United Methodist Church, has a vision “to assist in the empowerment of people in Hancock County ... especially those with the greatest needs,” according to the Web site, www.jubileeproject.holston.org. The site said Jubilee works “through enhancement of self-worth, abilities and opportunities.” It works with farmers throughout Northeast and East Tennessee.


Hodges said his hope is to see the program expanded to other locations in the 100-store chain.


“We’re playing a valuable role for them as well as them for us,” Hodges said of Jubilee and Food City.


Hodges said the products sold in the pilot display at the Eastman Road Food City are from the users of a small commercial kitchen that Jubilee rents out. It is called the Clinch Powell Community Kitchen.


“It’s a small-scale commercial kitchen for people who went to rent food-processing space by the hour,” Hodges said.


He said the kitchen operation, which started eight years ago, helps lower overhead for entrepreneurs.


Users of the kitchen are invited but not required to join the Appalachian Spring Cooperative, which was formed seven years ago in affiliation with Jubilee. He said all cooperative members but one, which already has its own kitchen, use the Jubilee kitchen.


The cooperative, a small business incubator, is a for-profit group of small producers acting as one, meaning that Food City deals with only one contact instead of multiple ones. Food City officials said the chain eventually may stock the cooperative’s offering in its warehouse, depending on how the pilot program goes.


Aside from Tennessee River Barbeque Sauce and Hazel’s Salad Dressings, Heidi Hutchison, manager of the cooperative, said the producers and products in the pilot program are:


• Bill Davidson Jr. of Davidson Farm near Surgoinsville, www.thedavidsonfarm.com. Items are Zippy Zucchini Relish, Chow Chow, Corn Relish, Farm Fresh Salsa.


• Steve White of TN Little Mountain, Russellville, www.smokymountainmarketplace.com/whites, Apple Butter, Tennessee Strawberry and Blackberry Toe Jam.


• Schuyler Cunningham of Cunningham Farms, Kyles Ford, Sweet Potato Butter.


• Bob Wagenseller of Clinch Mountain Grille, Thorn Hill, www.clinchmtngrille.com, Garlic Marinade (original and spicy), Spicy Barbeque Sauce.


• Sherie Anderson of Sherie’s Garden Style Salsa, Garden Style Mild and Hot Salsa and Chow Chow, and


• Judy Chavez of Rocky2 Co., Knoxville, All The Heat Salsa.


As often as once a week, the cooperative restocks the display with products. He said the program began with one case of each item, with items displayed in a rack five feet tall and four feet wide.


“It’s done OK considering the way the economy has gone and food prices have gone,” Hodges said.


Tom Hembree, senior vice president of marketing for Abingdon, Va.-based K-VA-T Food Stores Inc., parent of the Food City chain, said that some products have sold better than others.


“It’s done OK so far,” Hembree said. “Some items sell really well. Some are a little slower.”


Hembree said he hopes to expand the program to the Food City stores in Sevier County by the spring to catch the tourist season there. If the program catches on, Hembree said it may grow to include other stores in the 100-store chain and that eventually K-VA-T could warehouse the items with others sold in the 92 Food City and eight Super Dollar Discount Food stores in Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee.


“Their biggest problem is distribution, especially (being) in Sneedville,” Hembree said.


Happy to be on store shelves


Don Colyer, founder and owner of Tennessee River Barbeque Sauce, and Hazel Tippo, founder and owner of salad dressing maker Hazel & Co., said they are happy to be involved with the pilot program that puts their products on a Kingsport grocery store shelf.


Collier said his sauces in the Tri-Cities are available exclusively at the Eastman Road Food City. Of the four he produces, Cranberry Delight, Blackberry, Mild and Spicy, with all but spicy are available at the Food City.


Collier founded the business more than five years ago with the help of his wife, Dwain, and became a member of the cooperative and began using the kitchen. Collier, who is retired, is a disabled Navy veteran of the Vietnam War.


“I would like to come out and set up my booth and just let people sample the sauce,” Collier said of an idea he and Tippo plan to pursue with Food City and the cooperative.


He also has developed a baked bean recipe using his sauce. That and more information about the sauce is available at TNRiverBBQSauce.com.


Tippo has been in business and a member of the cooperative for about a year. She recently moved herself and the business from Monteagle to Knoxville.


“I was just lucky to find them (the coop and the kitchen) on the Internet,” Tippo said.


Tippo formerly worked in retail, including a gift shop and owned retail shops and a bed and breakfast. She has Parkinson’s Disease, and the salad dressing business is her full-time job.


Her company produces seven sauces; balsamic vinaigrette, cinnamon honey vinaigrette, ginger lime, poppy seed, rosemary lemon, sugar-free poppy seed and herb garden. All are stocked at the Food City except ginger lime and herb garden. She also plans to add buttermilk dill soon.


She said the ingredients are natural and simple and the dressings have no added water.


“They can double as cooking sauces and marinades — some of them,” Tippo said, adding that she also would like to give out free samples at the Food City store.


A participant in the Pick Tennessee Products program by the state Department of Agriculture, Tippo also has her dressings at Earth Fare natural and organic grocery stores in Johnson City and Knoxville and at the Greenlife Grocery in Chattanooga, as well as smaller stores and other locations in the Knoxville area.


Her Web site is www.hazelandco.com.


Stocking other local, regional fare


Hembree and Steve Smith, president of K-VA-T and son of the chain’s founder, the late Jack Smith, said Food City strives to sell local and regional items.


“We try to buy local whenever we can,” Hembree said.


For instance, the chain has been selling locally and regionally sourced produce since 2000, and this year sold about $6 million in fresh produce.


“One of every $5 of produce that is sold in our Food City stores is locally grown produce,” Smith said.


That includes strawberries and “half-runner beans and corn that people line up to wait for” from Scott’s Farm in Unicoi County.


Strawberries and other produce also come from farmer David Mann of Scott County, and broccoli in Food City stores this year came from Galax, Va.


“We’ve got farms in Blount County. We’ve got farms in Jefferson County. We’ve got farms in Grainer County,” Smith said.


In addition, this year’s offering of pumpkins and gourds come from Hillsville, Va.


“We backhaul that stuff in our trucks, putting in our warehouse and sending it back out,” Smith said of leaving trailers and sometimes refrigerated trailers in or near the fields at harvest time.


The tractor trailers would be making the trip to and from stores, anyway.


“We try and bring all the produce back to Abingdon to distribute,” Smith said, explaining that allows the chain to keep better track of what it is selling.


Since the trucks are on the road, anyway, the additional weight makes a negligible impact on fuel mileage. That idea was expanded when Smith made a deal with Pepsi for Food City trucks that otherwise would return empty to the Tri-Cities instead to haul Pepsi products bottled in Knoxville to the Pepsi distribution center in Johnson City.


He said Food City is pursuing a similar deal with Coca-Cola as it moves toward the Roanoke market, where Coca-Cola is bottled for Southwest Virginia.


The grocery chain also works with growers to be sure the products meet size and appearance standards, as well as on crop rotation and staggering.


The chain also began selling hair sheep meat around 2002, retailing a product produced mostly in Scott County in Virginia and Sullivan and Hawkins counties in Tennessee. He said the biggest obstacle to overcome was for the growers to find meat packing/slaughterhouse services.


“We’ve got a store manager who raises hair sheep,” Smith said of Bristol, Va., Euclid Avenue Food City manager Raymond Stockard of Hiltons, Va. He said Martha Mewbourne, a Scott County hair sheep grower, and Dr. David Redwine, a Scott County veterinarian, helped lead the hair sheep into the meat department at Food City.


“We celebrated our millionth dollar in sales with them last year. It continues to grow,” Smith said.


“We still haven’t caught up with demand quite yet,” Smith said. “That’s what business we’re in, to bring a good product to the customer at a good price.”


Another brand with a local connection on Food City shelves is Trigger Beeler’s salsa, which is produced elsewhere but has its distribution center in the Tri-Cities.


In addition, Food City has brought back the Terry’s Snack Foods brand, as well as Kern’s Bread, Kay’s Ice Cream and Lay’s Lunch Meat, all exclusive to Food City.


Kern’s, which disappeared in the early 1980s, is made again in Knoxville, while Terry’s is back in Bristol, Va. Lay’s is made in Lenoir City, near Knoxville, while Kay’s is made in the upper mid-west because no ice cream-making facilities are located in this area.


“All of them are doing extremely well,” Smith said, adding that Food City just introduced a new all-natural Kay’s line in black cartons and is putting out a new Kern’s snack cake line.


“We obviously are working on some more,” Smith said, declining to identify other extinct brands that may come back to life.


For more information on Jubilee, contact Steve Hodges at (423) 733-4195 or stevejubilee@bellsouth.net. For more information on the cooperative, contact Heidi Hutchison at (423) 733-2095 or mgr@apspringcoop.com.


The Food City Web site is www.foodcity.com.



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