By Tony Parra
Sunland Inc. president Jimmie Shearer said it’s been a long time coming, but on Thursday he and other Sunland representatives unveiled a new peanut butter processing building.
Sunland Inc. officials had an open house from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 2:30 p.m.
The Sunland Inc. plant was started on Aug. 1, 1988, with approximately 15 employees. The plant started as a dream for 10 farmers.
“I love to tell the story,” Shearer said. “Only in America can you have a dream and it come true. Ten farmers started with an idea of starting a peanut plant. It’s amazing how much was accomplished.”
The original plant, which is still in operation, employs 135 today, officials said.
The new plant employs 19 and will process 9,000 peanuts an hour, according to Weston Pierce, peanut butter production manager. That’s three times more than the old plant can handle.
The new building will process a variety of peanut butter brands and styles, including creamy, crunchy, honey, old-fashioned, traditional, chocolate, praline, cranberry, vanilla, southwest, cashew and almond.
“I’ve told the story of Sunland Inc. many times,” Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega said. “A handful of farmers had a dream and felt they could do it. It took a risk and a lot of work.”
United States Department of Agriculture officials presented Shearer with a $450,000 check in mid-April. The $450,000 was part of the $1.7 million dollar expansion project for the new building. The new building is located west of the Sunland Inc. plant.
“This company represents a reverse trend in this country,” said Michael McDow of the USDA’s rural development department. “With many manufacturer jobs going overseas, a manufacturer in New Mexico is not shrinking, but growing.”
Shearer had to go through Roosevelt County Electric for a $450,000 loan. Jeff Condrey, director of the agriculture department’s rural development office in New Mexico, said in October the Rural Business-Cooperative Services program works in partnership with the private sector and the community-based organizations to provide financial assistance.
Roosevelt County manager Jerry Partin helped in the process of Sunland Inc. receiving the loan and was present at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Sunland Inc. Vice President Paul Newsom said there were 25 truckloads of peanut butter shipped out on the last week of December. Pierce said employees have been working 10-hour shifts and the new building is operational 20 hours a day.
Approximately 80 people stood outside of the new peanut butter building to watch the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Those who took the tour experienced a room at 20 degrees used to cool the peanut butter pallets for 24 hours.
Participants in the tour saw the peanuts heated, cleaned, crushed and mixed with salt, sugar and other ingredients before arriving in another room of production. The final stage before the peanut butter was boxed, showed participants how the lids with a tamper-proof seal are placed, along with labels on the jars. The machines unfolded each box and 12 jars of peanut butter were placed inside. The machines then closed the boxes and taped them. Workers would place the boxes of jars on pallets before storing.
The old peanut butter line Sunland Inc. has does not have the boxing automated. Employees would have to unfold boxes, close them once they are filled and tape them.
“It’s been a team effort,” Shearer said. “It took everyone to make this happen. The suppliers, farmers, employees and bankers. All of the employees have been super troopers.”