By Heather Mullinix
Kerry Ingredients liquid smoke facility in Mayland has been recycling before it was the fashionable thing to do.
The liquid smoke is produced by taking sawdust from hard wood sawmills and distilling it to liquid form.
"We've received awards from the state of Tennessee for finding a use for the sawmill's waste," said Freddy Conley, plant manager. "It's unique in that it's a food product but it's made from trees."
The company began in Mayland in the 1970s as family owned Hickory Specialties. It's product has been named Zesti Smoke since that time. Hickory Specialties also produced charcoal. The company is supplied by sawmills in the area, where there is an abundance of hickory wood.
It was sold to Bob Evans in 1996 and the charcoal facility sold to another entity in 1999. Kerry Ingredients acquired the liquid smoke plant in 2001.
The Mayland production facility and it's sister plant in Greenville, MO, make up the Kerry Ingredients liquid smoke division. It's one of only two liquid smoke producers in the United States and its products are shipped around the world to food producers.
And while you won't find their products on the shelves of the local grocery stores, it's likely many of the foods you enjoy incorporate one of the more than 400 products made in Mayland.
"It's used in barbecue sauces and food seasonings and in chicken and bacon products. Every hot dog has liquid smoke in it," explained Conley. "We have about 400 different recipes that use the base product."
It also provides that unmistakable smoky scent found in dog treats that will send your four-legged friend begging for a taste.
There is also a dry smoke product that provides the flavor for barbecue potato chips, dry rubs and many other foods.
The plant also provides coloring agents that make microwaveable foods more appetizing and preservatives that don't alter taste but provide greater food safety for products.
Kerry Ingredients employs 44 people at the Mayland facility. Many are from Cumberland County and right from the Mayland community. The plant is in operation 24-hours a day, five to six days a week.
It's provided steady employment for the area, with Conley not recalling a layoff in 25 years.
"It's a consistent business and we've got a lot of long-time employees," he said, adding a maintenance supervisor recently retired with 40 years of service to the plant.
Kerry is a part of its community, supporting local organizations, particularly the Mayland Volunteer Fire Department. It was also recognized with a Patriot Award by the Tennessee National Guard for accommodating employees with commitments to the guard.
The company is making use of new technology to make the facility more energy efficient, with a project underway to install new high-efficiency lighting with motion sensors. They are also adding aerodynamic fins to its fleet of tanker trucks to increase fuel efficiency.
The fleet of tankers is used exclusively for the liquid smoke products and allows Kerry to meet specific customer needs for shipping and safety.
Safety is a priority for the company, with more than five years without a lost-time accident.
"Our goal is to send our employees home in the same condition they came to work," Conley said.
Such an impressive safety record doesn't just happen. Safety is always on the minds of every team member. Monthly safety audits are conducted and any issues found quickly addressed, and everyone is encouraged to bring their safety concerns forward so that a solution can be found. Training is also key, with each employee completing at least 40 hours of safety training last year.
The longevity of the employees also helps, Conley noted.
All that work has paid off with the plant earning three safety awards from Kerry's global headquarters in Ireland. The plant was awarded Presidents Eye for Safety Awards for injury reduction, cost control and significant improvement. The facility was the only Kerry location in North America to receive more than one award this year.
Kerry Ingredients has 47 production facilities in the United States. Because it serves food manufacturers and producers, it holds all its facilities to high quality standards. Kerry Ingredients in Mayland has an Safe Quality Food Institute certification of Level 3. The SQF certification requires a rigorous, credible food safety management system, and Level 3 is its highest designation.
"That means we can sell to pretty much any food customer," Conley said.
Kerry also operates a state-of-the-art Center of Excellence at its headquarters in Beloit, WI. There, research and development teams can test products and work with its customers to ensure it meets their specific needs.
"Before we bring any new product to the market, it is thoroughly tested," Conley said, adding there are liaisons locally working with the team in Beloit.
Kerry Group serves just about every segment of the food and beverage industry, and the Center of Excellence in Beloit is also equipped with equipment specialized to each segment of its business and can allow them to produce any Kerry product produced in the world. It is one of the leading and most technologically advanced manufacturers and innovators for food ingredients.