VALDOSTA, Ga. - The loss of the Levi Strauss & Co. jeans plant several years ago is turning into a gain for the South Georgia Pecan Co.
South Georgia Pecan, which says it is the second-largest pecan-shelling company in the nation, is renovating the plant so it can expand its operations.
"Our business has just gradually grown," President and CEO Jim Worn said. "We had no room" in the company's old 70,000-square foot facility, he said.
The company has already moved some of its operations into the 200,000-square-foot Levi building and will eventually move all of its shelling operations and offices into that facility. But Mr. Worn said it might be more than a year before it moves everything, because business is too strong to shut down operations and move equipment out of the older building.
The National Pecan Shellers Association has no data on the volume of pecans processed by individual companies. But South Georgia Pecan says it is the second-largest U.S. sheller behind John B. Sanfilippo & Sons, which markets pecans and other nut products under the Fisher brand and other names.
According to Sanfilippo's most recent annual report, that company processed about 49 million in-shell pounds of pecans in its last fiscal year at its facility in Selma, Texas, near San Antonio. Sanfilippo says its plant has the capacity to process 90 million pounds a year.
Mr. Worn said his company has the ability to process about 50 million pounds annually and will increase that capacity to 80 million when it completes the move.
"I know we're the largest (pecan sheller) east of San Antonio," he said.
South Georgia Pecan is a nearly century-old business founded by the Pearlman family of Valdosta. The company was acquired in 1967 by Beatrice Foods , which sold the business to Mr. Worn and co-owner Ed Crane in 1983.
The privately owned company expects revenue of about $60 million to $70 million this year.
South Georgia Pecan provides pecans for major food manufacturers such as Nestle and Russell Stover and also for supermarket chains such as Publix.
"We also have a gift store where we sell to the public," Mr. Worn said. The store is next to the company's storage facility on U.S. Highway 84 in Valdosta.
The store offers gift baskets of pecans and other nut items and also sells through the Internet at www.georgiapecan.com.
South Georgia Pecan's facilities employ 70 to 90 people during most of the year, but that increases to between 150 and 160 during the holiday season because of the demand for gift items, Mr. Worn said.