Like caviar, truffles and other exotic delicacies, salty hot boiled peanuts are an acquired taste. Perhaps that’s why Hawkinsville’s Hardy Farms Peanuts, which has cornered Georgia’s market on hot boiled peanuts, calls its product “The Country Caviar.”
However, the market for oil roasted peanuts is global. So cousins Brad Hardy and Ken Hardy, Jr., sons of Hardy Farm’s founders Alex and Kenneth, did some research and decided to take their business to the next level. The cousins are partners in Hardy Peanuts Inc.
They opened a state-of-the-art roasting facility – the first of its kind to operate in Georgia in several years – after seeking advice from the small business consultants at the Macon office of the University of Georgia SBDC.
“I am really excited about our product and working with the SBDC,” says Brad, president of the Roasted Division at Hardy’s Peanuts. “We are well-known for our boiled peanuts, but that’s a southern thing. With roasted peanuts, it opens up the world to us. It gives us the ability to go out and sell unlimited amounts,” he says. “In operation only a few months, we’re already getting requests from buyers from China, Germany and Haiti.”
SBDC Area Director Josh Walton began working with Brad and Ken in early 2013. “They were interested in entering two new markets: private label packaged peanuts and bulk roasted peanuts for candies, trail mixes and other processed food products. They know the statistics, did the research and saw another big opportunity. No one in Georgia was doing this.”
The Hardy cousins worked with Walton to develop their financial projections. “They wanted answers to questions like, ‘if we start our own roasting operation rather than farming that work out, how much investment would it take? How much revenue would it generate?’” says Walton.
“We started with roadside stands,” says Brad. “Then there came Blakely plant scare. That $60 million company wound up going out of business, moving most oil roasted peanut production to North Carolina. We had never done an oil roasted peanut, and the Blakely equipment was selling at bankruptcy prices. We thought maybe there was something there for us.”
Brad called Walton, who had been referred by other Hawkinsville business owners. “They told me we needed to call this guy. They said he could really help us out. I called him, and we got to work.”
“We went through cash flow scenarios, estimated costs for equipment, looked for a location and estimated the costs to build the plant. They gained a lot of business expertise putting the entire operation together,” says Walton.
“From there he helped me write our business plan,” says Brad. “It was instrumental in our getting a business loan.
“With all that help, we decided to go ahead with the project.”
With its plant open and two new operators, Hardy Farms Roasting can produce up to 2,000 pounds of oil roasted peanuts an hour. The company does private label packaging and packages the product in bulk for companies who use it in their products. It also launched its own brand – Georgia Fried Peanuts – in three flavors: Simply Salted, Sea Salt Caramel and Southern Sriracha.
In fact, the company’s Southern Sriracha Boiled Peanut Rub won a Flavor of Georgia award in 2014, and Hardy Farms Peanut’s products were featured as “Foods of the South” on Yahoo Foods.
“That one-page spread the week before Thanksgiving brought us 700 orders in 24 hours,” says Brad. “We expect that our new projects, private label packaging and increased sales will help us add another three or four employees by the end of this year.”
And the new plant benefits Georgia’s peanut farmers, too. “We’re hoping to bring a lot of this business back from North Carolina,” he says.
Hardy also sees international sales on the horizon. “We’ve talked to Josh and have a list of things to work on the next two years. We are taking baby steps and planning on our growth to be customer-fueled.”
“These guys will be successful,” says Walton. “They’re well networked in the industry, and they have a team in place that can move the operation forward.”