Wes Pence, president of Wholesome Cos., said that he was born into Wholesome Foods since his mother and father first started the business.
Pence said his parents first sold their products at a farmers market, then transitioned to a role in distribution.
“We were actually the first company to cut the chicken for Kentucky Fried Chicken,” Pence said. “They used to actually cut the chicken in the stores. So we did that for a lot of years.”
The family business did a lot of cutting for fast-food chicken in the 1970s and 80s, Pence said.
Pence said that in the mid-80s, he and his brother Nathan really got involved in the business, and their parents let them take the reins. Nathan and Wes have run the business ever since. He said his father died about eight years ago, but he, his mother, and Nathan all meet every day to discuss the current business and operations.
In the mid-80s, Pence said that the family opened a retail store and then added country ham cooking.
“So that's something that's really grown for us, that we bring cured hams in and we debone them, skin them and cook them … And we also sell a lot of meats and poultry,” he said. The cooked country hams are currently a big-ticket product for the family business, pence says, with products marketed under the Old Dominion brand.
Broadening its product line, Wholesome also now sells bottled water. Pence said the area they operate in has both an artesian well and quality water in general, and their business does a lot of private-label with that venture.
The Wholesome business is diverse in other ways too, Pence said.
“We have Wholesome Foods, Wholesome Transportation and Logistics, which is a fleet of trucks,” he said. “We do a lot of outside hauling for people, refrigerated, and also, we do a good bit of tanker, like oils and fats.”
About 15 years ago, the family business started Wholesome Energy, which Pence said has grown in the last few years. The trucking side of their business has also grown lately, but distribution has not, he says.
Because of COVID and complications for getting pork and beef, though, Pence said his business has been more involved with further beef processing. Although Wholesome does not currently have a kill floor, he said they are hoping to add one and have it up and running by the end of this year.
Pence said that finding the niche market for beef processing has been helpful for the company and sets them apart from the pack.
“I think we can really help farmers grow the products and pack it up the way they want it packed … again, as being like a small processor with the cut sheets, we can process it any way they want to do it,” Pence said. “Where typically with a huge processor, it's really hard for them to change products and change their lines. So I think that we're at a size where we can still do that.”
Wholesome Foods also opened another retail outlet in a shopping center in the town of Woodstock, Va., which is a few miles north of their current location.
“We have a butcher on site and we also have a deli where we make sandwiches and things,” Pence said. “And that's been a really cool thing to do because we were able to take some things from the history of our company, like old scales that my father might have used at the farmers market and some pictures from our history.”
Pence said that the evolution of the company — essentially having several smaller companies under one roof — has made them stronger.
“We're kind of rebuilding the brand and changing our focus, but we're fortunate enough that we're strong as a company that we can make those investments because I see a good future in that,” he said, adding that he hopes to make the local community more self-sustaining in regard to its meat products and assist farmers in building their own brands.
Pence said there is a need for more pork and beef processing capacity and plans to capitalize on that. His only concern with the planned expansion is labor but he remains optimistic for the company’s expansion.
Moreover, even with labor being a challenge, Pence thanks his company’s employees for all that they do and said the company’s current staff is dedicated and high-performing.
For future growth, Pence sees some potential in bringing more local beef to larger stores. He also sees some opportunity in expanding the company’s retail side, depending on the performance of their current retail stores.
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