Food & Natural Products

Food & Natural Products Manuacturing

Local Advantages

  • Central location in the middle of the Atlantic seaboard, putting us within 500 miles of 40% of the U.S. population including Boston and Atlanta
  • 90-minute drive to the Port of Virginia, the deepest natural harbor and port on the east coast, accommodating 10,000 TEU container ships
  • Rail-sided sites served by both CSX and Norfolk Southern
  • Shovel-ready sites and available manufacturing space with refrigerated/freezer space upfits
  • Ample water and waste water capacity for food processing operations
  • Wide variety of refrigerated trucking lines and cold storage facilities
  • Major food industry expansions and investments total more than $80 million in the past five years
  • Special grant available for food & natural products manufacturers sourcing 30% of materials from Virginia

Farming Enterprises – The region is currently engaged in a wide range of farming enterprises including cattle, hogs, chickens, corn, peanuts, cotton, soybeans, wheat, hay, barley, tobacco and apples. There are more than 1,000 farms operating in the Gateway Region, averaging 247 acres in size, which means 20% of all the land in the region is engaged in active agriculture. In addition to larger scale commercial farms, Virginia’s Gateway Region also is home to artisanal and community supported agriculture producers with customer bases all along the Eastern Corridor.

Sabra Research Center of Excellence – Sabra Dipping Company’s new research center established best practices for the company on all aspects of culinary, food science, production, engineering, packaging, supply chain and product delivery. The center offers an example of groundbreaking agricultural initiatives occurring in coordination with Virginia State University. For Sabra's needs, this includes research on new chickpea strains that thrive in the local climate, enabling the company to increase its use of local resources. Sabra's 20,000 square-foot facility features a state of the art culinary center, ideation space, a pilot plant, offices and laboratory space.

Training & Education

Fort Lee Army Installation – Fort Lee’s Culinary School trains all branches of the armed forces in the culinary arts. The installation also holds the largest culinary competition in America annually, showcasing the culinary prowess of America’s military chefs. The talent at Fort Lee has garnered attention from the Food Network, with various episodes and shows featuring Fort Lee’s military with celebrity chefs. Each year, approximately 400 military personnel enter the civilian workforce after exiting the military from Fort Lee. Local companies in the food industry have access to this highly skilled workforce with unique culinary training and disciplined work ethic.

VSU Food Safety & Microbiology Program – Virginia State University’s (VSU) Food Safety and Microbiology Program aims to continually improve the safety and quality of our nation's food supply. The program’s research seeks to increase knowledge about the microbial ecology of contamination routes through on-farm investigations, post-harvest incident tracking, food processing and distribution of foods. The program also evaluates methods and approaches to better prevent, intervene and verify the presence of food-borne pathogens from the farm to the dinner table. The program delivers hands-on laboratory training on current and emerging issues to students in agricultural and biological sciences. A strong emphasis is placed on studying fresh and specialty foods to benefit producers with limited resources.

VSU Logistics and Food Production Programs – VSU offers a degree in Logistics and Industrial Technology as well as in Manufacturing Engineering, grooming the next generation in the workforce. The VSU curriculum has been shaped by an industry-based advisory board ensuring that coursework, research and program competencies translate into a meaningful workforce with a relevant skill set. Lab, research and coursework address high-speed packaging and processing and relevant control systems. 

Community College Workforce Alliance (CCWA) – CCWA is a consortium of the region’s community colleges that provides customized training for industry partners on campus or on site at your facility. For example, CCWA has worked with Sabra Dipping Company on documenting standard operating procedures for all processes and equipment sanitation. CCWA conducted skill assessments during recruitment, using the WorkKeys system, at Kraft Nabisco’s plant in addition to conducting analysis of job profiles and responsibilities.

Top Local Employers

Name Product or Service Employees
Hillphoenix Refrigeration casings 1,196
Tyson Foods Food processing, meats and prepared foods 850
Kraft-Nabisco Cookies and crackers 550
Perdue Foods Poultry products 500
Campofrio Foods Italian food manufacturing 500
Sabra Dipping Company Hummus and vegetable dips 450
Maruchan Ramen noodles and soups 450
Boar’s Head Provisions Meat processing 400
Sources: Richmond Times-Dispatch; InfoGroup; Virginia Employment Commission; VGR internal research, 2016

Selected Occupations Employment & Wages

Occupation (SOC) Regional Avg. Wage National Avg. Wage Current Employment Extended Employment*
Packaging & Filling Machine Operators (51-9111) $28,300 $28,800 1,805 20,275
Mixing & Blending Machine Operators (51-9023) $41,700 $36,400 581 1,146
Bakers (51-3011) $26,300 $26,300 856 22,002
Meat, Poultry & Fish Cutters/Trimmers (51-3022) $23,800 $24,800 1,221 14,638
Food Batchmakers (51-3092) $25,500 $29,200 388 3,211
Agricultural & Food Science Technicians (19-4011) $31,800 $39,000 118 202

*Includes trainable persons currently employeed in occupations with relatable skills
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Chmura Analytics, Q3 2016; latest data as of Jan 1, 2016