Moreno Group takes the lead, as almost half of the 2010 Top 50 Privately Held Companies increased their sales in 2009.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Written by Leslie Turk

No where is the change in this year’s Top 50 Privately Held Companies list more evident than at the very top of the heap.

Moreno Group, Lafayette businessman Mike Moreno’s global oilfield firm, assumes the No. 1 spot with $612 million in 2009 revenues, besting the No. 2 company by $223 million. The company’s growth from 2008 and 2009, a 15 percent increase, is primarily attributable to its international and downstream modularization business, officials say, part of its diversification strategy beyond domestic oil and gas fabrication. “Both of these segments showed growth as these projects tend to be large and [take] 12-18 months,” says Senior Vice President Rick Fontova.

As they did last year, energy-related entities like Moreno Group continue to dominate the Top 50, with about 35 percent of the companies dependent on the oilfield for all or a portion of their revenues. A couple of family-owned newcomers to the list, however, attest to the area’s diversification efforts and the geographic strength of the Acadiana region, among which are industrial packaging group JohnPac of Crowley and thriving wholesale hunting products business Synergy Outdoors of Broussard, which got its start in 2002 as Wildgame Innovations.

Last year ABiz launched the Top 50 in order to give our readers a glimpse into the varied companies that drive Acadiana’s economy. Remarkably, almost half of the locally headquartered companies, 22, reported revenue increases in 2009, a year when much of the country — and many regions of the state — suffered declining business due to the national economic downturn. Lots of these companies employed creative strategies to keep their businesses’ revenues from falling. Because only revenues are reported, it remains unknown how profitable these companies were in 2009.

20100728-ABIZschumacher-0101
Dr. Kip Schumacker of Schumacher Group

Schumacher Group of Lafayette, which staffs hospitals and emergency rooms, moves to No. 2 from No. 3 on last year’s list with $389 million in annual revenues, a 12 percent increase over 2008, and Louisiana Wholesale Drug Co. of Opelousas advances to No. 3 with $345 million in annual revenues, a 3 percent improvement over 2008. The shakeup at the top moves perennial frontrunner Stuller Inc. to the No. 4 spot (Stuller was No. 1 when this project was produced by ABiz’s owners in an earlier publication), and rounding out the top five is Sunland Construction and Affiliates out of Eunice.

 

 

 


Driving Forces

Profiles by Lisa Hanchey, Nathan Stubbs and Erin Zaunbrecher

It takes perseverance and a tremendous amount of hard work to build a business into one of Acadiana’s premier companies, and no single person can do it alone. For the 50 companies listed this year, it took 21,760 people to get the job done in 2009.

It also takes a vision and an ability to adjust a strategic plan in an environment with so much uncertainty — like the one every company in Acadiana faces today. Below are the inspirational stories of how eight of Acadiana’s Top 50 companies are doing just that.

20100728-ABIZMoreno-0101
Moreno Group’s New Iberia West fabrication yard at the
Port of Iberia covers 175 acres and is dedicated to
upstream platform
and modular construction.

Moreno Group
No.1


With revenues of $612 million for 2009, Moreno Group comfortably tops the list of Acadiana’s largest privately held companies. Comprising several related oilfield service businesses, which individually would also rank among Acadiana’s top companies, Moreno Group is an international industry leader, and also ranks as the largest private hookup and maintenance contractor in the Gulf of Mexico.
The roots of the company date back to January 1998, when founder and CEO Michel Moreno purchased oilfield services company Dynamic Industries Inc. (which alone earned the No. 5 spot on last year’s list). Having already launched the oil and gas safety program management firm Moreno & Associates several years earlier, Moreno was an established player in the industry, but the acquisition of Dynamic brought his profile to a new level. With Moreno & Associates folded into Dynamic, the company established a reputation for offering an array of offshore expertise that it continued to build upon. 

In June of ’98, Dynamic purchased a multi-million dollar facility at the Port of Iberia to begin performing offshore fabrication jobs. The 175-acre facility, with 5,500-ton capacity, gave Dynamic a direct pipeline to the Gulf of Mexico and the Intracoastal Canal. This began the transformation of Dynamic into a one-stop-shop for all offshore project needs, from platform construction and installation to supplies and service to maintenance and demolition. Today Dynamic, with 2,500 employees, is one of the most productive fabricators and field service companies throughout the Gulf coast region.

Through further expansion, the businesses consolidated under the Moreno Group umbrella. In 2007, the Moreno Group attracted investment from global equity firm The Carlyle Group and energy equity firm Riverstone Holdings. The two companies bought a combined 50 percent share of Moreno Group, splitting ownership with Mike Moreno.

Each business within the Moreno Group still manages itself with a degree of autonomy and growth-minded service ­— a philosophy that’s helped the larger corporation flourish. Even through down times in the oil business, Moreno Group has always found ways to adapt to the changing market, according to Senior Vice President Rick Fontova. “The growth profile that Michel’s been able to achieve,” Fontova says, “is clearly because of the way it’s privately run and held. Without a doubt that’s our competitive advantage — our flexibility and our ability to act quickly when opportunities arise.”

It’s a strategy the Moreno Group continues to rely on today in the wake of the BP oil spill and a federal deepwater drilling moratorium that could have significant implications for Dynamic’s domestic fabrication business. Moreno Group has already shifted some vessels and crew into assisting with cleanup operations. Following the industry, it is also continuing to build its international portfolio — currently working projects in Venezuela, Angola and Trinidad, and is also looking to expand into Mexico and Brazil.

In addition, the company’s latest venture involves bringing its expertise in modular fabrication — where components of processing and piping equipment are built piece by piece in a specified location and then transported to the construction site for final assembly — to the nuclear industry. In December 2009, Dynamic Power was launched as part of a joint venture with another company, Nuclear Innovations North America. The group is now actively pursuing opportunities with the planned construction of a new nuclear facility in south Texas.

Even with its global strategy, Lafayette headquartered Moreno Group’s roots remain firmly planted in Acadiana. “We are an Acadiana company, first and foremost,” Fontova says. “We intend to keep it that way. Obviously you have to bring in other components as you enter these other countries and markets, but this is our core, this is who we are. And I think the company has been managed and continues to be managed in that mindset. Most of the people want to be here, most of the leaders are local. They want to be part of this community, and that’s how we built it.”

20100728-ABIZJohnPac-0101
David John, Mary Ellen Henry and Peter Johnw

JohnPac
No. 35


Rice farmers and millers in the Crowley area know JohnPac as Louisiana Bag Company. Local businessman Mitchell John started the company in 1953 by providing his town’s major industry with refurbished burlap and cotton bags for storing and packaging its product. Since then, JohnPac has experienced many milestones in its almost 60-year history.
In 1982, Mitchell’s two sons, Peter and David, purchased the business from their father. It was after this period that the company greatly expanded into the distribution of industrial packaging. Today, JohnPac has over 3,500 stock-keeping units of various products, such as corrugated items, stretch film, pails and equipment.

The Johns opened LA PAC, a bag manufacturing plant specializing in small and bulk bags made of woven polypropylene, in 1992. They were now acting as both supplier and manufacturer, cutting out the middleman and ensuring that customers would always receive their products on time. But in 2003, the company experienced a setback when both businesses burned to the ground.

Not to be defeated, the brothers set up a temporary shop the next day. In 2005, champagne marked the opening of a new 165,000-square-foot warehouse and manufacturing plant that would be home to both companies, and the next year, the Johns decided to keep growing and venture into global industrial packaging. A name change was also on the horizon as Louisiana Bag and LA PAC merged to become JohnPac.

“As we continue to grow nationally, we wanted to keep some of the tradition and legacy of the company, but not be perceived as just a local company,” explains CEO Mary Ellen Henry, who joined JohnPac four years ago. “We’ve got a very diverse book of business. Our largest customers range from foodstuff to specialty chemical.”

As JohnPac, the company has continued to grow in scope, venturing into the making of BOPP bags, a paper bag replacement. With superior print quality and strength, these bags are currently used for packaging dog food, fertilizers and foodstuffs. “We’re one of probably three in the nation making those bags stateside,” says Henry. A building expansion this year for the printing and packaging of the BOPP bags will add 25,000 square feet and 18-20 new employees to the existing 120 the company employs.

JohnPac has also begun to watch its carbon footprint. A “Go Green” section on its website outlines the company’s commitment to protecting the environment through the use of recyclable packaging, reduced material waste and partnering with energy efficient vendors. When the oil spill in the Gulf occurred, it was a natural fit for JohnPac to get involved. Its core product, polypropylene, naturally absorbs oil, so “we’ve gotten into making different types of boom material,” says Henry. “That’s not anything we had done before, but we’re making bags all day long, so we can make boom all day long.”
Despite the name change and recent innovation and growth, JohnPac hasn’t forgotten its roots. Jointly owned by Peter John and David John and still headquartered on Highway 90 in Crowley, the company continues to serve the local rice industry and area mills. With more foreign competitors entering the market, JohnPac works even harder than it did 50 years ago to serve its original customers. “We’ll always serve the local millers any way we can,” says Henry. “We bend over backwards to get them what they need, when they need it. They’re why we have the business today, even as we continue to grow with our diverse packaging offerings.”

20100728-ABIZJBMouton-0101
Robert “Popie” Billeaud and Stuart Billeaud

J.B. Mouton
No. 44


Robert “Popie” Billeaud uses his nickname to his advantage as president/owner of J.B. Mouton, saying the informality of “Popie” offers a more casual approach to business. “When people from out of town come down here and I introduce myself, they’re kind of caught off guard by the nickname, but it seems to create a more friendly environment,” he says.

Billeaud grew up in that type of environment, one of 17 children — many with nicknames of their own. His father was called “Bozo,” and by kindergarten he was “Popie,” and the name stuck. Billeaud’s great-grandfather was the original J.B. Mouton. A carpenter and farmer, he put his skills to use in 1915 building homes. His two sons went to work with him, followed by a grandson (Billeaud’s father) and eventually Billeaud himself. Now Popie’s son, Stuart, has joined the company as project manager, representing the fifth generation.

A true family business, and one that’s been located in Lafayette for almost 100 years, J.B. Mouton attributes its success to building not just quality buildings, but relationships. More than half of its customers are repeat clients, and “it’s been that way for about 30 years,” says Billeaud.

In the 1930s and ’40s, J.B. Mouton transitioned away from homes into commercial construction work. In the 1970s, the company moved toward private sector work, its claim to fame from those days being the First National Bank Towers, now Chase Tower, on Jefferson Street.

While many of the original J.B. Mouton’s buildings have been torn down over the years, newer work can be spotted all over town, from the Stone Energy building to LaHaye Center, BMW and Hub City Ford’s dealerships, the U.S. Post Office, IberiaBank Tower in River Ranch and St. John’s Cathedral.

“Today, we primarily continue doing mostly private sector work with a limited amount of public sector construction,” says Billeaud. “We have gravitated to specialty buildings, such as churches, as well as maintain about 50 percent of our volume in medical construction.” Out of its résumé of projects, J.B. Mouton will probably be remembered from this decade for the LITE Center on Cajundome Boulevard.
Featuring an outside “egg” that translates as a total immersive virtual space inside, the center represented a challenge for the company. “That was a fascinating project, not just in the construction aspect of the architectural features, but in the integration of the electrical and mechanical in that building to support the visualization venues,” says Billeaud. “That technical aspect was new for us outside of the medical industry.”

Work has slowed some in the current economy, but J.B. Mouton is currently working on phase one of the new Episcopal School of Acadiana, which has to be complete before school starts. The company is also getting ready to sign a contract with the state to structurally retrofit the Cajundome, and a specialty project this summer includes building a Kentucky-style horse barn for a client.

While he expects a slow recovery in the industry, Billeaud won’t be going around town drumming up business or mentioning any of J.B. Mouton’s awards. “I’ll leave those to the architects,” he says.

“We’re just a firm that has been actively involved in the construction industry all these many years.”

20100728-ABIZFranks-0101
Donald Mosing, Mike Webre and Jeremy Angelle

Frank’s Casing Crew & Rental Tools
No. 8


For four generations, Frank’s Casing Crew & Rental Tools has continued to be a leading provider of products and services to the deepwater and land-based oil and gas industry. Started by Frank Mosing in 1938 from his garage, Frank’s Casing Crew has grown from a one-crew casing company into a multi-service tubular company with more than 2,000 employees throughout the U.S. and a presence in more than 40 countries.

“If you consider all of the deepwater wells and facilities that are producing oil and gas both within the Gulf of Mexico and throughout the globe today, Frank’s has installed many of the completion tubulars on many of these deepwater tension leg platforms, spar platforms and subsea completed wells,” says Mike Webre, vice president of engineering. “In numerous world record-breaking projects that have been executed, Frank’s has been involved with the installation and provision of equipment and services to make those projects a reality.” These finds include the Shell Perdido project, the world’s deepest water depth surface production facility producing in more than 8,000 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico, and the Haynesville Shale in north Louisiana, one of the largest natural gas finds in the U.S.

From the oil bust of the 1980s to the current drilling moratorium, Frank’s has persevered in the volatile oil and gas market by adhering to a simple principle — operational excellence. “We recognize that exceptional equipment is one ingredient,” Webre observes, “but we also recognize that we need to supply quality assurance systems to ensure that the equipment is prepared and selected for each job in a consistent manner, supported by well-trained people and delivered to the customer in the manner that it needs to be and the configuration it needs to be in to do that specific job.”

Anticipating customers’ needs, the company has continued to create innovative products and equipment, allowing it to thrive in an evolving industry. Over the past couple of years, the engineering and design team, headed by Donald Mosing, Webre and Jeremy Angelle, has developed several unique tools for the industry. Together, these leaders guide the 27 graduate engineers and numerous industrial technology graduates working at Frank’s.

Frank Mosing’s eldest son, Donald, president and CEO, has been with Frank’s since graduating from SLI (now UL Lafayette) in 1951. At age 81, Donald is still involved with the design of tools. Under the direction of 34-year veteran Webre, the team created Automated Power Tong Systems — automated and mechanized pipe wrenching systems used to screw individual lengths of casing or tubing into a continuous string. Webre’s crew also developed Top Drive Mounted Casing Running Tools, which help run casing into long horizontal reach wells drilled into shale formations, including Haynesville and locations in Texas, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

With 11 years of experience, Angelle handles most of the casing handling tools, including elevators and spiders. These tools have unique features that make them specifically suitable for running casing strings in deepwater drilling applications. In addition to these products, Frank’s designs and manufactures specialty equipment used to install casing, tubing and riser systems on many of the deepwater production facilities around the globe.

With the current moratorium on drilling, Frank’s is diverting personnel from the U.S. deepwater market in the Gulf of Mexico to land-based operations and locations in offshore Africa and Brazil through affiliate Frank’s International Inc. “We make efforts to try to get those people working in some of the other geographic areas to keep them gainfully employed,” Webre says.

Frank’s now has 1,133 employees — 684 of those in the Acadiana area. Donald and his brother, Larry, are still headquartered in Lafayette, and six of Frank Mosing’s grandchildren are now involved with the day-to-day management and operation of the company. Currently, the fourth generation of Mosings is breaking into the business.

20100728-ABIZMaritime-0101
John Deats, David LeBlanc and Donald Nassar

Maritime International
No. 43


After four moves, Maritime President David LeBlanc promises to stop saying, “We’ll never outgrow this space.” Starting out in the back bedroom of his house in the mid-1990s, he and partners John Deats and Donald Nassar have grown Maritime International into a multimillion-dollar business with offices in five countries. Growth has come faster than they could anticipate and, in sync with its name, Maritime is going with the flow.

LeBlanc and his partners’ original intention was to be a manufacturers’ representative type of company and sell other peoples’ products. That worked for several years, with Maritime offering offshore cranes, pipeline connectors and even engineering services, but the company was meant to go in a different direction. “Bit by bit, we started doing some work in the fendering industry for a Japanese company, and that part of the business kept growing, while the other parts never got to be anything you could build a robust business off of,” explains LeBlanc. “Over the years, we just sort of shed those and focused primarily on fendering and design.”

Fenders are like bumpers that keep ships from hitting the dock. Maritime’s fenders can be seen in ports and harbors around the world and are among the largest, able to withstand more than 10,000 tons. The company has also added mooring (the equipment that ships tie up to), naval products and oilfield fabrication products, like steel piles, buoys and other structural elements used in the offshore oil and gas industry, to its repertoire.

“We’re not primarily an oilfield company, so our name’s a little less recognizable in the area,” says LeBlanc, but if people from Acadiana travel to the port of Houston, they’ll see Maritime’s fenders in the container terminal. Taking a cruise to the British Virgin Islands? Maritime built the first and biggest of its kind of fenders at the dock there. In Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor, almost all of the ship mooring equipment was manufactured by Maritime. And most recently, the company was contacted to build an anchor for some of the hardware being used to stop the oil spill on the sea floor. 

With such high-profile projects, it’s easy to understand why Maritime has grown so fast. The company eventually moved out of LeBlanc’s house to an office in Gordon Square in downtown Lafayette. It outgrew that 1,500-square-foot space and built a shop on Ida Road in Broussard. About three years later, it had run out of space again and purchased 27 acres in the SMEDA Industrial Park in Broussard. This allowed it to build a 65,000-square-foot facility, which it moved into with 115 employees last January.

LeBlanc admits he thought they had plenty of room to grow, but “we probably, in short order, are going to be adding on to this facility,” he says. With so much expansion and the opening of offices in Belgium, France, the UK, China and the Middle East in a little over 10 years, it’s only natural that Maritime would have considered a relocation at some point.

LeBlanc says Houston came up early on as an opportunity to be closer to a major port and airport, but he and Nassar are both Louisiana natives and Deats is an LSU graduate, so the boys didn’t want to go too far. “Our customers are all over the world, so we could be anywhere,” says LeBlanc. “We like it here, this is a great place to live, and we just decided this is where we wanted to stay.”

The next phase of growth for Maritime at its new location in the SMEDA Park complex will involve projects closer to home. “We’ve probably spent the last five years developing our foreign offices,” LeBlanc says. “Now, I think over the next five years, our primary focus is going to be expanding our manufacturing capacity to service more of the oil and gas industry. We have a lot of customers that really rely on us and trust us to do things right, and we really want to continue that goodwill and expand our business even more.”

firesafetynew
Chad Meaux

Fire & Safety Specialists
No. 46


Most companies will tell you that their customers come first, but that’s not the case at Fire & Safety Specialists. “We felt that our employees and their families should always be No. 1, while our customers should be No. 2,” explains President/CEO Chad Meaux. “I have always felt that if you build a great team and take good care of them, then they will in turn take good care of your customer base.”

Meaux took his time building a team when starting FSS in 2002. As a service company operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, he has to be able to rely on his employees. Without a superior team, FSS would fall short of delivering superior service. And because of the nature of the business — guaranteeing safety and compliance to customers — service can be a huge liability.

“We instill the fact, to all of our employees, that every service that we conduct daily can result in a catastrophic event or the loss of life if not conducted in the utmost professionalism and stringent manner,” says Meaux. “Sometimes this can be tough on customer relations, because some customers want our technicians on and off of their facilities as quickly as possible and want to spend the least amount of money as possible.”

Having worked in the oilfield service business since 1981, first for Total Safety and then at Omega, Meaux wanted to take a different approach with his own business. He’d learned a lot along the way and built Omega’s fire and safety department to a $3 million a year business with 40 employees. Fire & Safety Specialists does just what its name says; it specializes in fire safety measures for clients, whereas some companies would just lump that into a variety of oilfield services.

“We support the ‘stick to one thing and do it right philosophy,’” says Meaux. The industry has responded to his approach, and FSS experienced its largest revenue month in its eight-year history in May. June was expected to be even better. “We are getting calls from clients that we have never performed work for before and have never called on from sales and marketing,” says Meaux.

FSS’s roster of clients includes Apache, BP, Chevron, Ensco, Maritech and Stone Energy. The company services more than 1,800 structures in the Gulf of Mexico, performing quarterly inspections on fire detection, gas detection and aids to navigational systems. FSS recently expanded its shop operations to 24 hours a day to be able to turn customers’ equipment needs around as fast as possible.

In the midst of such a busy period, the oil spill has thrown FSS for a bit of a loop. A Gulf project for Ensco was moved to Singapore as a result of the moratorium on drilling, so FSS had to rethink its approach to compete in an international market. Visas were secured for staff, and FSS kept the job.

In other cases, the spill has worked in the company’s favor. One customer allocated budgeted money for deepwater projects to shelf projects instead, and FSS has supplied BP with rented fire extinguishers and completely rented out its supply of gas detection systems to customers concerned about hazardous gases and air quality.

Meaux is optimistic for now but feels a responsibility to voice his concerns about the moratorium. On June 23, he participated in a roundtable discussion on the issue with MidSouth Bank and other local business owners.

“Only time will tell how the spill and the moratorium will affect us,” he says. “The oilfield drives this state, and FSS will continue to work hard to secure its place within it no matter what we have to do. That’s my guarantee to my employees and their families.”

20100728-ABIZKergan-0101
Ted Kergan
Kergan Brothers/Sonic Drive-Ins
No. 21

Although Ted Kergan owns 53 Sonic Drive-In locations around the state, his business formula remains simple. “We just try to be more fun than the guy next to you,” he says. Products like banana cream pie shakes and foot-long chili cheese dogs keep customers coming back, and Sonic’s practice of making managers part-owners in their restaurants ensures they have a vested interest in customers who drive up.

It was this concept that got Kergan interested in Sonic in the first place. It was 1979, the year Sonic got its start, and Kergan was broke and living in Detroit. “Somebody offered to make me a managing partner, so I thought that was a pretty good deal,” he says. “I moved 2,000 miles and sold my car and slept on somebody’s couch when I got there because they didn’t have an opening for a trainee.”

A few weeks later, Kergan was placed in the Jonesboro location for two weeks of training then went on to manage four different Sonic locations, saving his money until he could buy out the guys he worked for. “The rest of the 31 years is history,” he says.

Kergan has built between 150-175 Sonic locations over the years. He’s also started several other businesses as a result, getting into real estate when property for a Sonic location included an extra lot and a construction business that builds his new stores. Gary Wilkerson, who previously worked in marketing for TMC Foods-Popeyes and later ran the City Club at River Ranch, was brought in seven years ago to serve as president of these enterprises.

In 2004, Kergan Brothers sold all of its out-of-state restaurants in northern Florida and Mississippi. Kergan wanted to spend more time with his 9-year-old son and focus on the market where he got his start. This turned out to be smart move when the economy took a turn, but Kergan’s plan wasn’t to sit back and wait it out.

“We kind of pulled back into our core market,” he says. “We reinvested a lot of money in our stores, either completely remodeling our facilities or relocating a lot of our locations. Instead of cutting back like a lot of companies do, we said, ‘well, how does a customer view this? What’s their perception?’ And we just figured they want to go to the nicest place with the best food and service.”
Sonic has redone every store in Acadiana, except for the Kaliste Saloom location, which is scheduled to begin renovations in the next 60-90 days. Because Kergan Brothers owns the real estate that Sonics are located on (a lot of franchises are owned by the parent company and leased back to the franchisees), it also has control over store appearance. This comes into play at the location next to Ruth’s Chris and Sonic in Youngsville, where a particular flagstone was used on the exterior to make them more upscale.

Kergan’s strategy for weathering the downturn seems to have paid off. Revenues are up, and out of all 3,700 Sonic locations in the U.S., Kergan’s rank the highest in customer satisfaction and food quality, according to Fan Track, the system used to rank fast food restaurants. His Houma location has also made it to the “Top 48” round of the Sonic Games, an Olympic-style competition that evaluates crew members from coast to coast, making it one of the highest scoring stores in the country.

With 718 employees in Acadiana, Sonic gives back to the community with school nights at stores, where teachers and students can be carhops for the night and raise funds with tips and a percentage of the proceeds. Kergan Brothers also supports the Junior League, Miles Perret Center and sponsors Lafayette’s Christmas Parade each year.

Kergan says remembering his early struggles propels him out of bed to go to work each morning. “I get to come in and help people that have a lot of cards stacked against them, help them become a managing partner of a multimillion dollar business,” he says. “Somebody did it for me, so I just try to do it for somebody else.”

20100728-ABIZBrucefoods-0101
Virginia Brown Forestier and Si Brown

Bruce Foods
No. 9


Bruce Foods has something big to celebrate this summer. The manufacturer of such brands as Louisiana Gold Hot Sauce, Cajun Injector and Bruce’s Yams announced a $5 million expansion of its Lozes, La., plant in April. Great news for Bruce and the state of Louisiana, the plant will retain 380 jobs and create 43 new ones with a payroll of $1.35 million by 2014. Partially operating alongside an existing cannery, the plant will also propel Bruce into a new line of food products.

While Bruce Foods has relied on its sweet potatoes — sold under the Bruce’s Yams name and including Sweet Potato Pie Filling, Candied Yams, Bruce’s Yam Glaze and Organic Sweet Potatoes — as its core product through the years, it was dealt a blow last year when the state announced it would fund ConAgra Foods’ new sweet potato facility near Delhi, La. President Si Brown admits the deal changed his company’s plans for its much-loved product.

“The state giving them that funding changed our basic plan,” he says. “We’re still producing frozen sweet potato products, but ConAgra did alter our expanded range of products. However, new products we had planned in that category have been changed, and other vegetable products have been added and different processes adapted.” 

What Bruce Foods has done instead is added a number of other root crop products, like carrots, squash and juice, to its offerings. “There’s a trend now to alter beverages, going from a sugar base to a vegetable base, and so the new plant is more focused on producing vegetable juices for beverages and drinks,” says Brown. 

Going back to the sweet potato, CEO Bruce Parker, who joined the company four years ago from French company Saint-Gobain, says the puree process developed for Bruce’s Yams is what’s allowing the company to create these new vegetable products in the first place. “The puree process lends itself to a lot of different things, but was developed for sweet potatoes, a large part of our business,” he says.

Bruce Foods has been at the forefront of new food trends before, producing one of the first Cajun food products — Original Louisiana Hot Sauce — more than 80 years ago. The company’s Texas division pioneered the first canned Mexican products in 1931 with the Casa Fiesta line, and Bruce acquired the Cajun Injector line of products in 2003, at a time when injectable marinades were all the buzz in the food industry.

In addition to vegetable purees and juices, the company also views the hot sauce arena as still ripe for expansion.

“We’ve introduced several new products, including Louisiana Gold Horseradish Pepper Sauce and Louisiana Gold Wasabi Pepper Sauce,” says Brown. Other new products include wing sauces in jalapeno lime and honey mustard flavors. Parker says this creative diversification of products is what attracted him to the company. “Bruce Foods derives all of its values from its owners,” he says. “It’s a risk-averse company, with four plants in four different locations and 12 different channels of trade. We are branching out, but are still a strong supporter of our brands.”

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