In 1930, Lonas Swaggerty established Swaggerty’s Farm (Swaggerty’s), a small sausage business in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. At the height of the Great Depression, Lonas saw opportunity in a time when there were few. He purchased hogs from local farmers, helping several local families hold onto their land. In turn, he created a tasty, high-quality product that struggling locals could afford and enjoy.
Value has always been a major premise of the business. Today, with three generations of family ownership and operation, Swaggerty’s carries on a tradition of providing a quality food product at an accessible price point.
For a period of time in the 1950s, Swaggerty’s also operated an independent grocery store in Knoxville. As production picked up, the team refocused on serving as a supplier. The business ramped up its delivery service, slowly building growth. In the 1980s, the company really started to expand. Swaggerty’s hired a full-time sales staff to boost outgoing product and reach new customers. Now, the business supplies major grocers throughout the region with in-house brands and private label sausage products.
Kyle Swaggerty, Lonas’ son and current CEO, is proud to follow the family tradition. “I had always been involved with the family business,” he recounts. “I also served in the military. I spent time farming in the early years. When I returned to the business, we were packing cattle and hog with a goal to reach full production. I have been in this business for several decades and we have been running full production for about 25.”
Quite possibly the best tasting sausage in America
The company’s product line includes a broad array of tasty sausage. For starters, Swaggerty’s offers a line that serves as a throwback to the company’s Original 1930 Family Recipe. These sausages are available as sliced patties and rolls in both mild and hot spice levels. The Butcher’s Favorite line includes: patties, links and ground sausage with a mouthwatering specialty seasoning combination. Customers will find dinner sausages, as well, with a line of different bratwurst options for several occasions, as well as all-natural, preservative-free products and heat and serve sausages.
The team recently started selling new tray-pack links and patties, with approximately 12 per package. The smaller packages have been incredibly successful.
Kyle and his team are always looking to expand and improve the company’s product line. “One thing that we put a lot of emphasis on is research and development,” he explains. “We set ourselves apart from our competition by constantly trying to come up with new recipes and improving our current recipes.”
Like many businesses, Swaggerty’s felt the impact of the recent economic downturn. In the food business, however, the challenges are different. “People still have to eat,” Kyle explains. “Still, we have dealt with some high prices. In the last two years, the price of pork and beef has doubled. We don’t have a choice, because those are the ingredients we need, but it does hurt our sales margins.” Still, Kyle and his team have an eye on growth.
Doug Swaggerty, Kyle’s son and current COO, plays an important role in business development for the company, and he has taken on several recent projects and initiatives to spur and maintain growth. “We are opening a separate processing plant across the street from where we are now,” Kyle notes. “Our planned opening date for that facility is July 2014.When we have that up and running, we will have significantly more room in our current plant for slaughtering. We will slaughter in one plant and then move the meat across the street for processing.”
Kyle, Doug and the rest of the crew take great pride in the company’s successes. “We have seen a lot of growth in the last few years,” Kyle notes. “We have a lot of good quality people, including a great sales and marketing team. We have a great product that is very popular, too. Our sausage does a good job of selling itself. We currently sell to most of the major retailers, both regionally and nationally. We are also doing a lot of food service contracts.”
The business’ small size keeps quality and service manageable. “Our process is all close together, which allows us to maintain a higher level of safety and quality,” Kyle says. “We kill it and chill it in an hour’s time. Our product is not sitting around.” Swaggerty’s is a local business in every sense. The company sources locally, sells regionally and supports employees.
Looking ahead, Kyle doesn’t see any major improvements to the market. The cost of materials is disconcerting. Higher prices for meats are passed along to end users, which makes maintaining margins consistently difficult. However, with the help of his son, Doug, the business can still grow. In the coming years, the team is pushing hard to break into new markets and attract new customers. Finding these opportunities will be difficult, but Swaggerty’s Farm is ready to take on the challenge.