When SugarCreek was featured on our January 2016 cover, the company was celebrating its 50th anniversary, and was named Refrigerated & Frozen Foods’ Refrigerated Foods Processor of the Year. The company—known as a leader in co-packing proteins (especially bacon) for national brands, private labels and foodservice—had also just opened its state-of-the-art processing plant in Cambridge City, Indiana, where large-scale sous vide chicken and meatball production was happening in the 418,000-square-foot facility, which at the time was among the few commercial-scale sous vide operations in the U.S.
Since then, the Cincinnati-headquartered company has moved forward with continued product innovation, and plant progress with a focus on sustainable initiatives like water conservation. They also streamlined their supply chain and logistics models to include more automation, IoT and transportation upgrades to enhance efficiencies across the board.
“The past four years, we’ve equipped all of our tractors and trailers with GPS, as well as using telematics on all of the trailers, which monitors the condition of the trailers in terms of cooling. This has helped us to improve delivery to our customers,” says Jennifer Richardson Hutcheson, chief relationship officer at SugarCreek. “This past year, we began a major renovation of our Fairfield, Ohio, facility just north of Cincinnati. This renovation will add both new and redundant capabilities to our portfolio. Our bacon business, the platform in which we began, continues to remain strong, but we’ve also seen growth across our other fully cooked products.”
Bacon is indeed SugarCreek’s cornerstone consumable, but the company produces much more variety today than when it was started in 1966 by John S. Richardson. SugarCreek currently makes raw and cooked bacon bits, bacon jerky, turkey bacon, chicken sausage, and other pork, poultry, beef and seafood products, along with custom sous vide options created by SugarCreek’s R&D chefs, and appetizers and snacks, like flatbread pizzas and empanadas. Today, the company’s entire product portfolio is approximately 80% refrigerated and 20% frozen foods.
Sugar Creek’s 418,000-square-foot facility in Cambridge City, Indiana, is four times larger than any other SugarCreek plant, and features a commercial-scale sous vide operation.
Safety and Staff Satisfaction
John S. Richardson sold the company to his son, John G. Richardson in 1990, and today John and his son, Michael, oversee SugarCreek as Chairman of the Board, and President, respectively. The company currently has six food processing plants—four in Ohio, and one each in Indiana and Kansas—and all six are SQF Level 3 rated, which is the highest food safety certification, and recognized as a Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) benchmark, meeting international food safety requirements.
One of ten industrial sous vide tanks at SugarCreek’s Cambridge City, Indiana, plant.
“Since 2016, for food safety we’ve transitioned to electronic record keeping which has helped not only in our ability to track any FSQA (Food Safety and Quality Assurance) concerns but it’s also more environmentally friendly. We’ve also implemented advancements in belt washes and other assisted cleaning systems, and have helped our facilities clean more effectively and efficiently, improving food safety while working to reduce overall water usage,” notes Richardson Hutcheson, adding that robotics, automation, new equipment and custom packaging for clients have also been a major focus the past four years.
SugarCreek pork belly portions are conveyed into a grill marker (left) then vacuum sealed and sent to a sous vide tank for cooking (right).
Renovations for all six SugarCreek facilities have been more than just improving food production capabilities. An emphasis on employee satisfaction is also included in the company’s upgrades, including onsite childcare options, training centers, and increasing the starting wage for new staff.
“Employee retention is always top of mind for us, so we started a new program that uses interviews and meetings with an associate’s direct supervisor to help increase retention,” Richardson Hutcheson says.
SugarCreek meatballs produced at the company’s Cambridge City, Indiana, plant.
When COVID-19 began its historic disruption of the industry in March, “our employee safety procedures were the first to be modified,” remembers Richardson Hutcheson. “Symptom and travel questionnaires began in March along with temperature checking. We modified breakrooms and gathering spaces to encourage six feet of social distancing, and took other necessary precautions to ensure a safe, yet inviting workplace. As the state shutdowns began and foodservice business declined rapidly, we needed to shift our operations to produce more retail foods. Our employees were up for the challenge, and we’ve been able to adjust as needed during this pandemic. Thankfully, we’re seeing the foodservice and retail divisions stabilizing. The business isn’t the same as it was earlier this year, but then again, no business is the same.”
"Thankfully, we’re seeing the foodservice and retail divisions stabilizing. The business isn’t the same as it was earlier this year, but then again, no business is the same."
SugarCreek also donated (and continues to donate) excess foodservice products to local food banks near each of its six plant locations during the pandemic, and offered the use of their refrigerated trucks to transport those products to those in need.
“At Sugar Creek, our mission has always been to provide brand-worthy food solutions to our customers across multiple platforms and channels. We’ve been a family owned company for more than 50 years, and we’re proud, honored and humbled to be part of an industry that helps feed America,” says Richardson Hutcheson. “We have a leadership team that’s committed to reinvesting in our business—not only in facility renovations, equipment upgrades, food innovation and technology, but the investment in our associates, our everyday heroes.”
To read the original January 2016 SugarCreek cover story and plant tour of their state-of-the-art sous vide facility in Cambridge City, Indiana, click HERE.