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Connections 2017

Goldsboro News Argus - Progress Edition

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20 Aurora Romero de Salinas applies pressure to the top of the sliced pickle chips as they come down the line, ensuring that each jar is packaged as tightly as possi- ble. P ickles as a comfort food? That makes per- fect sense to Lynn Williams, public rela- tions director for the Mt. Olive Pickle Co. Mix in a dash of innovation and consistent, quality products, and you have a recipe for pick- le – and business – success. Agriculture and agribusinesses, like Mt. Olive Pickle Co., are Wayne County's top economic engine. And the 90-year-old company has provided jobs for generations of area families. "All of this, to me, it's a neat story of how we got started, and then to see where we are today, and we are still based in our hometown," Mrs. Williams said. "It is just the whole idea that local business people established the company to give local farmers a new market for their products. "I think a lot that those original shareholders would be very pleasantly surprised at where we are today and what a difference we have been able to make." The innovation that sparked the company's birth continues today. As a privately held company, Mrs. Williams said she could not comment on the company's financial status or its future plans. Not disclosing sales numbers has worked to the company's competitive advantage, Mrs. Williams said. "We are growing, and we do have to have some plans," she said. The company's annual payroll is $37.5 million — probably among the larger employers in the county, she said. In the fiscal year ending in April 2016, the company had packed 150 million jars. The com- pany is on target for 162 million jars by the end of the current fiscal year in April. The projection for 2018 –– 175 million jars. Mrs. Williams said she is trying to find some- one to tell her how many times that number of jars could stretch from Earth to the moon. The company is both "fortunate and blessed" in being able to generate momentum in sales and production, she said. Mt. Olive pickles are sold in all 50 states. "We are now officially the best-selling brands of pickles, peppers and relish in the country," Mrs. Williams said. "For a while we were No. 1 in just U.S. grocery stores, but not in multi-outlets like Wal-Mart — stores where they sell things other than groceries. "So we are actually No. 1 outright in unit and dollar sales throughout the U.S. It has only taken us 90 years to get there." Currently the company has 598 regular employees and another 130 seasonal employees. During green season, the number of seasonal workers will be close to 350. That means the company will be pushing 1,000 employees dur- ing the summer. Green season, when fresh cukes and peppers arrive, used to last six weeks. Now it stretches six months, from the end of April or early May to October. That expansion has been driven by the demand for fresh-packed items. "That is when we can procure the most fresh product coming in from around the country and around the world, essentially," Mrs. Williams said. "It has been consumer demand. We pack two basic kinds of pickles — the first being fresh pack. That means that we receive fresh cucum- bers. We pretty much wash them, cut them up and put them in a jar as soon as we get them. "Processed are the pickles that, when we receive them, we actually put them in our brine tank out in our tank yard, and we ferment them for a while before we actually bring them in and pack them." Processed items, such as relishes, salad cubes, the sweets and the sours, are mostly packed dur- ing the winter, Mrs. Williams said. "But the fresh pack, you need sufficient vol- umes, and so we are procuring those pretty much around the year, but mostly between May and October," she said." The company has continued to grow despite a stagnant economy. "One of the things that we have kind of real- ized over the years is that when the economy takes a downturn, we generally do well, which sounds weird," Mrs. Williams said. "But being a food product, we think it is because people eat in more. They are not going out to eat. They are packing their lunches, taking them to work. "Pickles are an item that adds flavor and tex- ture and 'zing' to meals. So we were fortunate in that we continue to do well even when generally the economy is not. Since then I think things have kind of perked back up. I think in our case, recently what we have been able to do is we have introduced new items that have an appeal to consumers." One is the Simply Pickles line that has been out for just over a year, and the other is an organ- ic line of products out since September. Mt. Olive Pickle Co. began in Mount Olive 90 years ago. The company is an economic engine in the county, becoming the best-selling brand of pickles, peppers and relish in the nation. See PICKLES, Page 22 Story by STEVE HERRING Photos by SETH COMBS National success in Wayne County

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