After nearly 90 years, Swaggerty’s Farm thrives with a culture
focused on family and treating people right.
By Alan Dorich, Knighthouse Media
Since its start in 1930, Swaggerty’s Farm has undergone changes, but one thing that has remained constant is its quest to provide a quality product to consumers. “We don’t sacrifice a few pennies for things that will provide a short-term financial gain,” Chief Operating Officer Jon Amidei asserts.
Based in Kodak, Tenn., Swaggerty’s Farm specializes in premium pork sausage patties, links, rolls and bulk products. Lonas Swaggerty started the company in 1930, after the market had been hit by the Great Depression.
That year, Swaggerty began buying hogs and sows from local farms, including one he saved from falling into bankruptcy. With those resources, he produced delicious and affordable quality sausage from his farm in Kodak. “The uniqueness of Swaggerty’s sausage became famous throughout the Great Smoky Mountains,” Marketing Manager John Gladney says.
Over the years, the company has maintained its founder’s legacy for quality. “Our second and third generation of owners and senior management teams have continued to commit to the highest quality standards, as indicated by our investments in BRC Food Certified AA, PAACO, HACCP and Pork Checkoff Total Quality Assurance,” Amidei says.
Today, Amidei leads Swaggerty’s Farm with President and CEO Doug Swaggerty, who represents the third generation of family ownership and leadership. In addition, “We have several gen-4 family members who are involved in the business,” Amidei says.
He adds that Swaggerty’s Farm specializes in providing innovative products with an old-fashioned recipe. “We have modern technology and logistics to help us protect and drive value,” he says. “As of August 2018, the Provisioner quoted IRi data suggesting the Swaggerty brand to be the fastest growing retail sausage brand among the top 10 in the United States.”
Using the Best
One way that Swaggerty’s Farm focuses on quality is by only using the best ingredients. “We have worked tirelessly to develop strong working relationships with our raw materials suppliers,” Amidei says.
“As an organization that focuses on premium quality product, we continually work with our suppliers to capture the best materials available,” he continues. “From the hogs we procure [to] the spices we use to the wax paper and corrugated boxes, we utilize their expertise and continually review and inspect materials.”
Swaggerty’s Farm also employs a strong group of senior management team members who have expertise about what they source. “We pay a premium for what we buy, but when quality matters in our finished product above all else, it’s worth it,” he says.
Swaggerty’s Farm has recently enjoyed strong demand for its spicy “Hot” option products, which come in packs of 18, 24 and 30 patties per box. The company also produces a 16-ounce, all-natural Hot Roll.
Shoppers contact the company daily, requesting that their favorite grocers carry its Hot product alternatives. However, “Out-of-stocks and SKU rationalization are a big challenge for fresh and frozen meat departments,” Gladney says. “Unfortunately, our Hot products are often the first flavor profile to not be available when a shopper arrives.”
But the company is willing to help when its retail partners are ready to add its Hot shelf-ready sausage for their fresh and frozen categories. “It’s really a matter of interest, space, the turns and the economics,” he says.
Up to the Challenge
Like many, Swaggerty’s Farm is coping with the challenge of finding people who want to work in its industry. “It’s not as glamorous as some other options young people have today and it’s long, hard work,” Amidei admits.
The company is located in a region where it needs to compete for the labor supply. “To compete and help minimize turnover, we foster a family environment where employees are valued, provide them with low-cost healthcare and numerous incentives and bonuses for excelling at their jobs,” he says.
Swaggerty’s Farm also has adopted automation whenever possible, including robotic pack-off equipment and patty stackers. “The more and more automation we can introduce into our process, the more successful we can become,” he says.
Technology also has become key for helping Swaggerty’s Farm grow its business. “Things like robotics, x-ray equipment, fat analyzers and photo sensors afford us the ability to make quite possibly the best tasting sausage in America,” Amidei says.
The company also has taken the step forward in conducting business via websites, applications, third-party integrations and EDI. “Our plan in action is to adapt, focus and execute the Internet of Things,” Gladney says.
So far, Swaggerty’s Farm is pleased with its use of sites and technology as strategic assets. “Our ‘e-business’ related plans have been an iterative part of the conversation, investment and growth for over a decade,” he says. “Swaggerty’s management and technology team is agile and demonstrably good at building cases for new technology, implementing them, as well as monitoring and managing their performance.”
A Caring Culture
Amidei is proud of the culture at Swaggerty’s. “We have built a high-performance senior management team that is not only driven for success but truly care about those that work here,” he says.
He also takes pride in the firm’s food safety and people safety record. “Over the last six years, we have achieved the highest score possible on our third-party audits,” Amidei says.
“Our complaints per million pounds produced is in the low single digits,” he adds. “We have a stellar safety record that we measure based on total man hours worked.”
Amidei sees more success ahead for Swaggerty’s. “We continue to have double digit sales growth year after year,” he says, noting that the company also continues to secure new customers and markets for its breakfast and dinner link items.
Swaggerty’s also boasts strong relationships with its supplier partners. “Through the use of technology, our lean manufacturing and Six Sigma initiatives, we find ways to improve productivity while maintaining our high-quality standards,” he says.
The company’s product development team also continues to seek out new and innovative items to expand the breakfast sausage category.
“We’re developing the gen four family members to continue the spirit of entrepreneurship for Swaggerty Sausage for years to come,” Amidei says. “I’d say we are poised for a bright future.”