Food & Natural Products

The region boasts a number of assets that contribute to a significant presence of food and natural products manufacturing, packaging and distribution operations.

  • Concentration of food and natural products growth and production employers and expertise, including facility investments totaling over $120 million in the past five years
  • Custom workforce training available with successful case studies with local food manufacturing employers like Kraft, Sabra and more
  • Research and development center and attached agriculture extension maximizes access to local farmers and crop development for local sourcing
  • Local military training facility produces chefs, logisticians and equipment operators for the U.S. Army
  • Grant for food & natural product manufacturers sourcing 30 percent of materials from Virginia
  • Multi-modal connections to suppliers, distributors, retailers and 41 percent of U.S. consumers in one day via numerous national freight carriers, shipping hubs and intermodal facilities.
  • Available cold storage buildings and shovel-ready build-to-suit opportunities. Explore
  • Abundant water supply and wastewater treatment capacity for food and beverage production


  • Top Industry-Sectors

    Industry (NAICS) Workforce Area  Employment Location Quotient
    Animal (except Poultry) Slaughtering (311611) 2,268 3.28
    Tobacco Manufacturing (312230) 1,918 34.47
    Meat Processed from Carcasses (311612) 1,684 2.65
    Breweries (312120) 1,082 2.69
    Crop Productions (Proprietors) (111000) 785 0.58
    Animal Production (Proprietors) (112000) 707 0.32
    Poultry Processing (311615) 693 0.6
    Corrugated and Solid Fiber Box Manufacturing (322211) 600 1.28
    Total, Food & Natural Products Cluster 17,964 -

    Note: A Location Quotient (LQ) is a statistical measure indicating the industrial specialization of a region compared to a larger geographic area (the nation in this case). By formula, the LQ measures the region's industry share of total employment to the nation's share of total employment for the same industry. An LQ greater than 1.00 indicates that the region has a higher industry concentration than the nation. Source: JobsEQ, Second Quarter of 2019 (preliminary data excluded).

  • Top Employers

    Company Product Description Employees
    Smithfield Packing Company Meat processing and packing 2,500
    Hillphoenix Refrigerated casings 791
    Sabra Dipping Company Hummus and vegetable dips 700
    Westrock Paperboard 668
    Perdue Foods Poultry products (distribution) 525
    Campofrio Food Group America Italian Food Manufacturing 500
    Virginia Maruchan Ramen soups and noodles 420
    Boar's Head Provisions Meat processing 400

    Source: Virginia's Gateway Region's internal database, 2018.

  • Sample Occupations

    Occupation (SOC)  Workforce Area Average Annual Wage National Average Annual Wage Workforce Area Employment Workforce Area Extended Employment
    Bakers (51-3011) $24,100 $28,700 780 24,211
    Meat, Poultry & Fish Cutters/Trimmers (51-3022) $28,300 $27,800 1,221 13,799
    Slaughterers and Meat Packers (51-3023) $28,600 $28,500 602 4,947
    Food Batchmakers (51-3092) $28,500 $32,100 534 3,753
    Mixing & Blending Machine Operators (51-9023) $39,800 $39,400 593 875
    Packaging & Filling Machine Operators and Tenders (51-9111) $29,700 $32,700 1,996 20,696

    Note: Extended employment includes regional workers with similar skills to the specified occupation. Source: JobsEQ, Second Quarter of 2019 (preliminary data excluded).

Workforce Development

Fort Lee: The local major military training base, along with other area military posts, produces 600+ veterans exiting the military locally each year. More than 50% specialize in logistics and order fulfillment, culinary skills, and equipment operations and maintenance. Fort Lee is the primary national training facility for these skills in the military, and there are growing programs to assist veterans in transitioning to employment after their service ends.

Community College Workforce Alliance (CCWA): 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, with Kraft Nabisco on skill assessments and job profiling during recruitment, among other diverse training and services.

Virginia Tech: The university’s department of Food Science and Technology offers undergraduate and graduate students state-of-the-art research programs including the Food and Analysis Laboratory and the Packaging and Processing Pilot Plant.

Virginia State University

Food Safety & Microbiology Program: The program and its research aim to improve the safety and quality of our nation's food supply and 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.

Logistics and Food Production Programs: Degrees in Logistics and Industrial Technology and Manufacturing Engineering, grooming the next generation in the workforce. The VSU curriculum is shaped by an industry-based advisory board that ensures program content program translates into applicable workforce experience. Lab, research and coursework address high-speed packaging and processing and relevant control systems.

Agricultural Research Station: Conducts research in partnership with companies to refine crop production Virginia, most recently working with Sabra’s research center of excellence to develop strains of chickpeas and sesame that are ideally suited to Virginia’s climate. Also working on hop strains for local craft brewers.

Virginia Agricultural Extension: The local extension unifies information resources and networks for farmers, food scientists and researchers, and companies, as part of a statewide organization. Education opportunities for youth, family and professionals attract a consistent visitation and participation by area farmers, production workers and visitors.