Food Concepts: A Family-owned Food Manufacturer in Tennessee

Taylor Bumbalough founded Food Concepts (FC) in 1980. The business started out as a small industrial manufacturer, making powdered coffee blends under holding company Coffee Connexion. “Since then, we have greatly diversified,” says Doug VanVoorst, general manager of FC. “I wear many hats here. I have an MBA from the University of Tennessee in small business and new venture analysis. I started in this industry working for Planters Peanuts as a teenager pouring over 25,000 pounds of corn per day and then, most fortunately, was given an opportunity to work in the quality control lab. For FC, it seems I have had 18 titles in my 18-year career, being involved in every aspect of food production, but that’s the nature of a small business that has seen our growth.”

VanVoorst is proud to note that Bumbalough is his father-in-law. “I married the owner’s daughter,” VanVoorst elaborates happily. “We are a family-owned business, and Bumbalough started this company after a career as a state buyer with formulations that niched items needed by customers, but unavailable in the marketplace. Now, we are entrenched in industrial food service; however, our custom-blending sets us apart. We strive to give our customers what they want not what we have. We make products that fit menus in a nutritional sense, an economic sense and an environmental sense. Our strategic location in central Tennessee allows us to do business nationwide, including Puerto Rico as the majority of United States destinations are two-day points.

Products and Services

FC produces food items under its own brand and co-packs for other businesses, as well. “We do coffees and instant teas,” says VanVoorst. “We do a litany of powdered beverages. We also manufacture cheese sauce, gelatins, gravies and puddings, all of which just require water to be added at site. We pack items that require different shelf lives, different packs size and even certain religious certifications. We can pack case products that make one serving or hundreds of gallons. We are continually striving to produce more products that are normally made in a liquid form and make them into a powdered form, such as our powdered red sauce instead of traditional tomato sauce.”

Despite continued growth, the company has remained true to its roots in more ways than remaining family-centered. “We have always been in the drink business,” VanVoorst continues. “We are, however, moving more toward the center of the plate in recent years. Currently, we are producing rice and bean meals and dehydrated dinners. We want to be a one-stop shop for a majority of needs; low sodium and low-fat are two dietary restrictions we are pushing for. We look for the best way to reduce salt and put potassium back into the diet. We are always working toward creatively adding nutrients to the food we produce.”

FC’s products are not only health-focused, but also environmentally friendly. “Our environmental sustainability platform allows us to save freight and storage space,” VanVoorst notes. “Powder is more efficient to store and transport. The research we have shows that every plastic gallon jug of liquid made, shipped and stored that it takes 30 percent of that gallon in oil to complete. A normal 4/1-gallon case of liquid product may weigh over 40 pounds, whereas our competing yield product weighs less than 7 pounds; 1,000 cases can be contained on a truckload of 4/1 gallon, as with our competing yield product over 5,000 cases can be contained on a truckload.”

VanVoorst truly believes in all the company does. “If really reviewed and scrutinized by industry buyers, these saving can be immense,” he details. “I would challenge any major food procurer – be it colleges, corrections or hospitals – to review 4/1-gallon procurement and see the energy impact that could be gained through this creative approach. We also make an effort to buy domestically. We want to offer American flavor through American labor; any product we can feasibly source from the United States, we do.”

Staying Ahead

As with many businesses across the United States, FC has faced challenges throughout the recent recession due to fact customer budgets have been cut. “Over the last few years, our unique concepts have fueled our customer growth,” says VanVoorst. “Buyers and market analysts have been forced to look at a newer way to meet end results due to monetary restraints. We know that we need to remain vibrant in new ideas. We have very strong relationships with our suppliers and customers. Our partners are crucial to our business; we set pars and analyze our past experiences. This niche market is a small world, and we know what will and what won’t sell. In general, we are very willing to custom-blend and try different concepts that other people may routinely deny.”

Over the next few years, VanVoorst says his team is looking at steady vertical expansion. “We’re family-owned and we want comfortable growth,” he explains. “We like new opportunities, but we’re also doing fine as we are. We are determined to continue to understand our customers and our markets. As they grow, we are hand-in-hand as a direct link. We want to help them to grow. We’re poised to continue upward from here.”

In 2013 the team is celebrating 33 years in business. Despite changes in the industry, FC does not have a public website. “We’re a full-demand company,” says VanVoorst. “People know our name and they come to us. We have distributors who represent our products as well. People see the value in custom manufacturing,” To celebrate the last big anniversary, he notes that the business made some updates to the facilities and thoughts to begin building a new manufacturing plant and purchasing additional shipping and distribution centers are also occurring.

VanVoorst values relationships beyond those with strategic partners. “Our biggest indicator of success is being able to turn enough profit to offer our workforce a high quality of life,” he explains. “It is also important that we can continue with the community programs we participate in. We do workshops and give jobs to disabled citizens, employ less trained employees, provide assistance to prison workshops and donate to multiple community-oriented programs.”

The company is maintaining a holding pattern balanced between the betterment of community and the growth of an American business. With this unique approach, VanVoorst and the Food Concepts team will continue to shape the market and community for years to come.