Reed and family have turned business into a real success story

R.J. Reed is the president of Reed Food Technology in Pearl, which he founded in 1995. An Indiana native, Reed first came to Mississippi to study food science and business at Mississippi State University, where he obtained his undergraduate and master’s degrees. Reed Food Technology has 30 employees, and TasteMaker Foods in Memphis, which he also owns, has 25 employees. Together, both facilities produce approximately three million pounds of product per month. Reed has a wife, Karen, and two sons, who both work in the business.

Q — What does Reed Food Technology do?
A — 
We work with other companies, whether it be industrial accounts like a major food manufacturer or a restaurant chain, on developing a flavor system for their food products. And then we manufacture and supply that flavor system, whether it be a dry or liquid type of flavor system.

We work with all different types of food products. We make things that go on the foods and make them taste better, look better. Whether it be a flavor, texture, color, those types of things. Maybe anything from a barbecue sauce or a finishing sauce to a rub to go on ribs, to a funnel cake, to corn dog mix, to batters, breadings, a wide variety of things.

Q — Competitors?
A — 
We compete nationwide with just a variety of different companies.

Q — Are there other companies who do what you do here in Mississippi?
A — 
No, there’s a few dry blenders.

Q — You’re from Indiana, and you think Mississippi is “one of the best-kept secrets”?
A —
It’s a very good location (in Pearl) with I-55 and I-20. We ship all over the country. It seems to be more of an advantage than a disadvantage. Rankin County is great as far as the public services – the fire, water, utilities. The workforce is very good. We’ve got a number of very long-term employees.

In Rankin County you have great schools, great recreational facilities, the crime is low, the cost of housing is reasonable. I live out at the Reservoir in a very nice setting that I would not be able to afford in some of these other major metro areas. It’s very affordable, very comfortable. I go back to where I’m from in northern Indiana, and it’s a rust bucket. We’re growing here. It’s vibrant. There’s a lot more positive than there is negative versus so many other parts of the country. I travel quite a bit, so I see a lot of stuff.

Q — How did you get started in the food industry and end up in Mississippi?
A — 
I started in the restaurant business. I had been to college and quit. I decided to go back to school from Indiana and wanted to learn about food science and business. Mississippi State was one of the only two schools at that time that offered a program that combined food science and business. I came down to Mississippi, went through that program, got a bachelor’s and master’s and left the state. Started working on a Ph.D. at Purdue and got hired away from that program before I was finished with it by a company in Illinois. After a few years, I got recruited back to Mississippi by a poultry company, McCarty Foods, and I was vice president of technical services, in charge of their product development and quality assurance. When they sold to Tyson, I decided to start my own company. They were one of the first customers. They allowed us to supply some of the seasonings that went on some of the chicken items that I had produced. We’ve been able to grow and expand since then.

I started with a lab and used outside manufacturers. In ’99, I acquired one of those suppliers, Specialty Foods, which was over here (in Jackson) by Hawkins Field. I built this building, moved the equipment in here, took their employees, started manufacturing. In the fall of ’07, I acquired TasteMaker Foods in Memphis.

Q — Other major clients?
A —
On the industrial side, Rich Products under the Farm Rich label — seafood, appetizers. Cook Foods is in the state. Pilgrim’s Pride, Foster Farms out of California. On the restaurant side, we target small to mid-sized chains. I think what we’re best at is our minimal quantities to produce a proprietary item are lower than most of our competitors. We don’t need a truck load of business to be able to run a special item through for a specific customer. O’Charley’s is one of our larger ones. We do Penn’s and Cock Of the Walk. Jack’s restaurants over in Alabama and also Newk’s.

Q — What is the development process of mass producing a food product for a client?
A —
If you want to have something matched or duplicated, that’s a lot different than creating something from scratch. If you want something duplicated, we have to have a sample of the product and an ingredient listing. If you have an idea about a certain flavor, you can explain that to us, and we’ll make a sample and let you try it.

Q — The most challenging part of your industry?
A —
Well, the economy’s been very, very tough the last few years. People still eat, but they change what they eat. Patterns have changed. Prior to the depression, or “recession,” historically, you’d see your basic business stay constant or grow a little bit. Then if you added new customers, you could grow your business. For the last three years, we’ve had our customer base deflate. It’s been dropping. We’ve had to work very hard to acquire new business to stay even. It’s a much better business to be in than, say, building products.

Q — How have people changed their eating habits?
A — 
Everybody’s traded down. Instead of going to a white table cloth dinner, you might trade down to casual. Or if you’re going to casual, you might trade down to fast food. Or, instead of going out to eat, you’re eating at home. And if you’re eating at home, instead of eating from the outside of the grocery store – your expensive things like meat, dairy, produce, seafood – you move to the inside of the store with basic commodities – rice, beans. The only growth segments have been coming from that category.

More on Reed:
Boating and flying
Favorite Foods: Steak, fish and chicken
Favorite books: Historical books like “Valley Forge” by Newt Gingrich

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