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Leclerc Foods set to expand in 2012

November 23rd, 2011 3:20 pm by Staff Report

Leclerc Foods set to expand in 2012

The local facility manufactures two snack foods for Leclerc Foods - granola bars and "crackers" or cookies as Americans call them.

The new year will bring yet another expansion to one of Kingsport’s newest manufacturing facilities - Leclerc Foods, which opened its doors in 2009 in the former CartaMundi plant site in the Tri-Cities Regional Business Park.


Clark Phipps, director of organizational development, U.S. Operations, Leclerc Foods, said the food company realized substantial growth in 2011 and sales are projected to be even better in 2012. With this expansion, Phipps added, the company will be increasing its current 70-employee workforce beginning in January 2012.


The family-owned company was founded in 1905 by Francois Leclerc in Quebec City, Canada. The company has remained in the Leclerc family hands for five generations. The Kingsport location provided the Canadian-based company with two manufacturing sites based in the United States.


Leclerc Foods opened its first U.S. manufacturing site in Pennsylvania, and the success at that facility convinced Denis Leclerc the company should open a second U.S. site that had better logistical support than the company’s initial U.S. plant.


Aside from Kingsport’s strategic location for shipping and receiving, Phipps explained there were two other major contributing factors that convinced Leclerc Foods to open here - support from local government and a great workforce.


"The business-friendly environment and all the help from Kingsport’s city government and organizations like NETWORKS helped bring Leclerc Foods to Kingsport," he said. "But the biggest reason was the quality of the workforce here in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. I’m sure most employers say this, but we truly have the best employees in the region."


The local facility manufactures two snack foods for Leclerc Foods - granola bars and "crackers" or cookies as Americans call them. Additionally, the Kingsport facility is Leclerc Foods' "nut-free" manufacturing site.


Leclerc Foods goes to extreme measures to ensure that no nut products are introduced into the snack foods made at the Kingsport facility. Employees are not allowed to consume nut products 24 hours prior to reporting for work. In addition, they are provided uniforms that are laundered on-site. Before entering the production area, employees suit up in surgical gear, complete with hairnets. Their shoes are placed into a cleaning unit that blows off dirt and grime that could be brought into the plant. Next, they spend 25 seconds doing a thorough hand wash followed by drying under a high-speed dryer. Then, they are ready for the last step which requires the suited employee to stand in an air-spray unit that cleans any residual particles from their body or clothing.


"All of these steps safeguard our production facility from any outside contaminants," Phipps said. In addition, technicians take microbiological swabs daily from equipment used in the food preparation and baking process. "We follow what the industry calls GMP, which stands for Good Manufacturing Processes, and that is just the whole process of the uniforms that we wear, the hairnets, the hand washing... all the things that you would hope someone who is cooking food for your family would do."


The production plant is clean and bright with a heavenly aroma of a mixture of vanilla, sugar and molasses emanating throughout the area. Leclerc Foods is also highly-automated and features state-of-the-art equipment and technology. All products are made from scratch, but a computerized system filled with each specific recipe dictates the right amount of sugar, flour and flavorings for each granola bar or cookie.


The automated process weighs each granola bar package and will actually kick the box off the line if it is found to be under weight. Technicians even pull granola bars off the line and manually count to make sure the bar has the right number of chocolate chips in the mixture. "We have an extensive, extensive quality assurance program that makes sure each product we take to market is the absolute best," Phipps said.


Leclerc Foods creates product under its own name and additionally creates product for stores like Target, Wal-Mart and Costco that are marketed under the store’s brand. One of Leclerc Foods' cookies, Praeventia, has received much national attention both in the United States and Canada for its health benefits. This is a dark chocolate cookie that promotes digestive health and has been featured on "Lifetime Network."


Phipps is extremely proud of Leclerc Foods and what the company has accomplished since coming to Kingsport. He gives credit for that success to the employees.


"Our technology is great, the leadership is great and the family is great… but the secret to our success is our great employees," he said.


Leclerc Foods will be adding to its ranks next year. They will be looking for employees with positive attitudes and who are problem-solvers. A high school diploma or GED is required, and they love folks with prior manufacturing experience. Starting pay is highly-competitive and the company offers a 401K plan; medical, dental and vision insurance; and short-term and long-term disability.


Phipps emphasized, "Leclerc Foods is a good place for someone to begin their work career," and there is much room for career growth.


For more information on Leclerc Foods, visit the website at http://www.leclercfoods.com/.

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