S.C. Tomato Farm Finds Flexibility Amidst Pandemic
As the world continues to grapple with the lingering effects of the coronavirus, businesses are adapting to stave off declining revenues. For St. Helena Island, S.C.’s Seaside Grown, subsidiary of a fifth-generation tomato farm, Seaside Farm, using their machinery to produce hand sanitizer instead of their popular food products not only kept the lights on, but also brought them new customers.
Ross Taylor, Seaside Grown’s CEO, first discussed the idea of making hand sanitizer with his uncle in the early days of the pandemic. The company quickly developed a plan that fit the World Health Organization’s guidelines for temporary production of hand sanitizer, and got to work.
“The South Carolina Department of Agriculture also caught wind of our efforts and shared our news,” Taylor recalls.
“It was a ‘how fast can we adapt’ kind of activity,” he adds. “We ended up being one of the first sanitizers in the regional market.”
Seaside Grown not only supplies grocery stores with Certified S.C. Grown pantry products, but the company also produces Bloody Mary mix, salsas, jams, BBQ sauces and hot sauces with their crop. Normal operations halted for a few weeks, however, while employees switched to the production of hand sanitizer full time.
Wanting to make smart financial moves during this time, Seaside Grown pre-sold their hand sanitizer before purchasing ingredients. They obtained necessary chemicals and alcohol from a supplier in nearby Savannah, Ga., and used their own distilled water to manufacture and bottle on site.
Seaside Grown started off making five thousand gallons a day, supplying hospitals and other larger businesses. It was difficult to find plastic bottles of any size, so the team pivoted again to bottle sanitizer in bulk, instead.
Though employees were initially nervous to handle chemicals and learn a new process, they realized the new level of importance to their work.
“It was a complete team effort,” Taylor says. “There is nothing we wouldn’t do to help the local community and humanity in general.”
The farm’s bank since 2007, SouthState provided Seaside Farm with its secure Treasury Navigator platform for managing and monitoring accounts, transferring funds and paying bills, as well as a revolving credit line as the farm’s needs expanded.
When the farm launched its food product line, Seaside Grown, SouthState provided term loans for the bottling facility and bottling equipment needed for the sauces, mixes and more.
“We help them take advantage of lower interest rates when available, but it’s our level of personal service that’s really unmatched,” says SouthState Regional President John Boretti, the farm’s banker.
“We couldn’t be happier with SouthState,” Taylor adds. “They helped us keep our company moving forward.”
The world is slowly returning to normal, and so will Seaside Grown. Some tomato growers didn’t plant for fear of not being able to harvest and sell. Seaside Farm, however, was in the process of putting tomatoes in the ground at the beginning of the pandemic.
As tomato season arrives, the farm is resuming normal operations of harvesting tomatoes, and Seaside Grown will resume manufacturing food products – including that famous Bloody Mary mix – while also continuing to manufacture hand sanitizer in bulk for those clients who have come to rely on them.