One of the hallmarks of the holidays is that there never seems to be a shortage of good food to eat. From turkey on Thanksgiving to homemade candy at Christmas, it’s usually easy to find something to fill up a plate.
Increasingly, there’s a strong chance that this food has a Kentucky connection as well, though that may not always be readily known when we reach into the pantry or the refrigerator.
Those who eat Jif peanut butter, for example, may not realize it was made in Lexington, home to the world’s largest peanut butter factory. Its owner, Smucker’s, also produces the “Uncrustable” sandwiches that are a staple in many school lunch boxes. Those come out of Scottsville.
Though they aren’t necessarily exclusive to Kentucky, there are Pop-Tarts made in Pikeville, Laughing Cow cheese in Leitchfield and frozen pizzas in Florence, which produces pies under several different names: Tony’s, Red Baron and Freschetta.
Mt. Sterling makes Hot Pockets; Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls rise out of Horse Cave; and Paducah can lay claim to Dippin’ Dots, the flash-frozen ice cream often found at amusement parks across the country.
Outside of these well-known products, Kentucky also plays a sizeable role in the fast-food market. Louisville has the corporate headquarters for Papa John’s, Long John Silvers and Yum! Brands, which owns Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell. Lexington, meanwhile, is the corporate home of Fazoli’s.
Given all of these examples, it’s no surprise that Kentucky relies more on the food and beverage industry than many other states. A 2009 comparison by the state’s Cabinet for Economic Development showed that we outpaced the national average and every surrounding state when measuring the percentage of the industry’s employees against our total workforce.
The cabinet says there are now 185 food and beverage factories across the commonwealth, and they are responsible for 14 percent of our total manufacturing jobs – about 30,000 altogether.
One area that has seen phenomenal growth over the last dozen years is bourbon. Our distilleries now sell about $2 billion worth of spirits a year, and there are more barrels aging in our warehouses than there are people in Kentucky.
For a product that relies so much on practices perfected in the past, bourbon’s future is looking especially bright; consider that distillers invested $170 million alone in their facilities in 2011.
Another major factor behind Kentucky’s rise in the food and beverage industry is “Kentucky Proud,” which the General Assembly created in 2000 to promote the state’s agricultural products. With about 3,300 different vendors licensed to use this brand, sales are now exceeding $250 million a year. Farmer’s markets are making steady gains as well, with sales topping $10 million.
Our farmers, of course, are the bedrock foundation for the food industry, and Kentucky gets high marks here as well. Only a handful of states have more farms than we do, and eight of our commodities – from poultry and corn to soybeans and hogs – bring in at least $100 million a year. Total sales are at $5 billion and growing.
While the food we eat may travel many more miles than it did decades ago, it’s good to know that Kentuckians are at least playing a bigger role in the way it is grown and produced. It’s something to chew on the next time we sit down to eat.
With the new year a few days away, the start of the 2013 legislative session is just around the corner. Your input in this process is critical, so please let me know if you have any concerns or questions regarding issues important to Kentucky. You can leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.