Carolina Packers Inc.: Great Food Since 1941
John A. Jones Sr. began his professional journey in Georgia at Cudahy Packing, and was then recruited by a group of Smithfield, N.C., businessmen to relocate and start a pork and beef processing plant. Jones Sr. then became a stockholder and manager of Carolina Packing, which was later rebranded as Carolina Packers Inc. (CPI).
CPI purchased local farmer’s livestock and processed it into fresh pork, hams, bacon, sausages and hot dogs. CPI purchased and processed livestock until 1997, when the company began buying fresh raw materials to manufacture the product line.
The team may have shifted products, but CPI has remained loyal to the company’s routes. Buck Jones, Jones Sr.’s son and past president of CPI, took over the company in 1977 and served in that position until he passed away in 2005. Today Jean Jones, Buck’s wife and president of CPI, proudly maintains the family tradition with the help of a team of experience businesspeople. “We’ve always strived to have the best products,” says Jean. With a staff of around 100 in a single location in Smithfield, CPI boasts a yearly production of over 10 million pounds of sausage products. The company uses the same recipes and many of the same suppliers it has worked with for many decades as well.
“Sometimes companies get bought out, but we’ve tried to maintain our loyalty to many of these suppliers,” explains Jean. “Things move a lot in this business.” Production is all in-house and CPI operates a fleet of delivery trucks to move products to supermarkets, distributors, schools and local foodservice establishments fast and fresh.
The backbone of CPI’s product line remains the Bright Leaf red hot dog. “People are pretty confused about red hot dogs,” laughs Jean. “It’s the same dye that is in many other food products. The hot dogs are brown until they’re run through a brine bath that has the dye in it.”
According to CPI’s website, the Bright Leaf hot dog is the quintessential Southern red hot dog. A unique blend of herbs and spices offers a distinctive, spicy flavor to the product, which has been a North Carolina staple for over 70 years.
CPI’s hot dogs are sold fresh. “A majority of them are just sold in bags,” explains Jean. “Some of them are vacuum-packed.” The company is one of only a few family-owned plants left on the East Coast that produces hot dogs from start to finish using fresh beef and pork. CPI has reduced production of other products to focus on hot dogs and other sausage items. The company has expanded its line of franks in recent years, offering a variety of different options specifically catered to the hot dog market.
Bright Leaf is one of the few remaining hot dogs still made in the state of North Carolina. “We’re concentrating on what we do best,” says Jean. “According to a meat and poultry magazine, our Bright Leaf hot dogs are ranked number 20 in the entire country.”
Distributing the Dogs
CPI’s geographic footprint covers the eastern half of North Carolina. “We’re very concentrated and we have very loyal customers,” says Jean. The company’s demographic is growing as well. CPI has been working with local school systems to incorporate leaner hot dogs into lunch menus. Bright Leaf is already the official hot dog of several local colleges’ sports teams, including East Carolina University and North Carolina State University. “We’re expanding through food service,” explains Jean.
With the expansion of CPI’s partnerships comes an expansion in the company’s product lines. “We just introduced an all-beef hot dog,” says Jean. “That market has grown, and we’re looking to compete there. This product is different in that there’s no MSG, no corn syrup, and significantly less fat than most beef hot dogs. Our beef hot dog is more distinctive, and these have a smokier meat and garlic flavor.”
Jean goes on to say that the secret to the company’s sustainable growth is a slow and steady approach. “We’ve been methodical, trying to gauge ourselves with the economy,” she explains.
CPI has experienced many challenges over the years, but Jean and the team have established a system that helps absorb the volatility of the commodities market that business depends on. “We don’t have the resources that the large companies do,” she explains. “We’re doing everything ourselves.” Luckily, Jean has the full support of an established team.
“Your company is only as good as the people you work with,” says Jean. Her go-to team includes Kent Denning and Johnny Hayes, vice presidents of CP, as well as Jimmy Butler, manager of sales and marketing. “A lot of our employees have been here for a very long time,” says Jean. “We don’t really celebrate anniversaries, but we have a lot of retirement parties.”
Like its employee base, CPI is growing in small increments. “We’d like to increase our customer base,” says Jean. “But we’re not planning on pushing it. Our facility would not be able to handle it.”
Jean and her trusted team are happy with the company’s current size, and Jean emphasizes a focus on her employees. “We’re managing what we have,” she says. “We offer a benefit package that most comparable size companies do not offer.” With a solid foundation in place, Carolina Packers Inc. will continue sustainable growth on the local front, bringing unique meat products to a market of loyal and new customers.