Though the Flavor 1st company name is only 15 years old, the roots run clear back to the 18th Century in western North Carolina.
The company’s timeline noted that James Johnson first cleared land and began to farm in Henderson County, North Carolina in 1798. Members of the Johnson lineage, eight generations removed from the original, are still farming in that same area and have successfully built a year-round vegetable operation that includes farming operations in many districts in four southeastern states with its headquarters only up the road a bit from that original farm.
Flavor 1st Growers and Packers LLC is now headquartered in Mills River, NC, with the operations stretching far beyond. “Our company has expanded multiple times over the last 15 years,” said Mike Porter, a salesman for the company. “We have gone from a 40,000 square foot to a 90,000 square foot packing facility in North Carolina. We also have a new facility in Ft. Pierce, FL, that was opened in 2017. With the increased space we have been able to automate the facility which has increased the quality of the product as well as improve productivity.”
Porter added that the company’s dry veg side of the business has seen large growth over the last two to three years. “We have expanded into the value-added side of the business as well as with overwrapped product and we have a bagging system,” he said.
The company’s increase in business and year-round production is possible because of farming acreage in south, central and north Florida, south and north Georgia, and South Carolina as well as its farms in North Carolina. “We have tomatoes and dry veg items 52 weeks a year,” said Porter.
He added that the location of the packing facilities in Florida and North Carolina give the company one day access to virtually any customer east of the Mississippi River. “This allows us to keep all the product fresh and also allows most customers the ability to adjust orders on the day of shipping,” he said. “This allows for less shrink and fresher product at store level.”
This season, the company’s North Carolina crops are progressing on schedules with no bumps in the road so far. “We are on schedule to start North Carolina production on July 15th and run through October 1st depending on the first frost,” Porter said.
Like every produce company in the country Flavor 1st has had to adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Our employees have been great, and we have implemented many procedures to ensure that the employees were safe to come to work,” he said. “Retail business has been very good as people are eating at home. Obviously, with the restaurants shut down the foodservice industry took a big hit.”