FOOD & BEVERAGE
From Kentucky Economic Development Guide 2024
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Kentucky: That Sweet Smell of Success

Stellar Snacks brings new opportunity to West Louisville.

FOOD & BEVERAGE
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear with Elisabeth and Gina Galvin of Stellar Snacks
Photos courtesy of Kentucky Office of the Governor

by GARY DAUGHTERS
W

hen the founder of Stellar Snacks arrived in town last fall, Kentucky and the Louisville community rolled out the welcome mat. Simmons College sent its marching band. State and community leaders came together to celebrate an important project for West Louisville. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear was in attendance, as well, to hail what is the biggest private investment in West Louisville in over two decades.

By the end of the year, Nevada-based Stellar Snacks is to commence baking gourmet pretzels from a remediated brownfield site in West Louisville’s Park Hill neighborhood. The company’s $137 million investment over 10 years is expected to create 350 new jobs. 

“Not only are we getting a growth-minded company that is creating hundreds of quality jobs in the area, but a company with leaders who truly want to ingrain themselves in this wonderful community for years to come,” said Gov. Beshear. “Stellar Snacks is a perfect fit.” 

Led by the mother and daughter team of Elisabeth and Gina Galvin, Stellar Snacks is a rising star in the food industry, having witnessed astronomical growth since its launch in 2019. Its pretzels and roasted nuts are sold in more than 5,000 grocery and retail stores and are served in-flight by American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Jet Blue. Looking to expand, the Galvins scoped out multiple locations across the country.

“When my mom and I landed in Louisville, something finally clicked — it felt like destiny,” Gina Galvin said “The creativity flowing through this historic city aligns perfectly with our values. We truly look forward to growing with this community.”

Park Hill is one of nine West Louisville neighborhoods covered under the West End Opportunity Partnership, established in 2021 by the Kentucky legislature to promote prosperity in a section of town “that has not seen much investment in decades,” according to Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg. Launched with $30 million in seed funding, the Partnership aims to kickstart economic development and quality-of-life improvements by helping to finance projects “up front.” For the next 20 years, 80% of the tax revenue collected within the development area is to remain in the West End, to be managed by community partners for strategic investments. Stellar Snacks is a sign that such thinking is being rewarded.

80 Acres Farms recently expanded into Boone County.
80 Acres Farms recently expanded into Boone County.
Image courtesy of 80 Acres Farm

“It’s a really big deal,” said Greenberg, “because we are showing that West Louisville is a great place to do business and that we’re continuing to invest there. It’s the start of what we hope will be even more great investments. We see it as a real catalyst for other economic activity.”

Plus, Greenberg said, “the pretzels are great. This is truly something to celebrate.”

Something Baking in Kentucky

Stellar Snacks isn’t the only commercial baker moving into the Bluegrass State. In June 2023, Maryland-based Bakery Express announced plans to invest $10 million tobuild a 35,000-square-foot facility in Northern Kentucky’s Boone County. By the time the company broke ground in January, it had already announced an expansion. Bakery Express now plans to spend more than $20 million on an even bigger plant to produce donuts, cookies, cakes, pastries, muffins and other sweet goods for distribution in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee.

The Bakery Express investment adds to Northern Kentucky’s growing food and flavoring industry, which already boasts more than 30 food and flavor manufacturers, said Boone County Judge/Executive Gary Moore.

“Northern Kentucky’s one-day drive proximity to more than half the U.S. population,” he said, “will make it easy for the company to serve the tri-state and Tennessee.”
The sweetness doesn’t stop there. Snack maker Kenlake Foods, a longtime employer in Western Kentucky, announced plans in October to expand operations in Calloway County, where the Kroger subsidiary first opened its doors in 1982. The $24 million investment is to expand the Kenlake plant in Murray by 6,000 square feet, supporting the creation of 15 new jobs. The project will include the installation of new processing equipment for dry roasting and packaging various nut lines.

“Kenlake Foods has been serving the Murray and Western Kentucky region for over four decades,” said Gov. Beshear in a statement, “and this investment is a critical step to ensuring they continue to do so for many years to come.”

Where Natural Bounty Meets Innovation

Food production and the crops that support it are deeply embedded in Kentucky’s history, culture and economy. Today, the state is home to more than 420 food and beverage facilities, which employ over 57,000 people. Since 2017, Kentucky has announced more than 300 food and beverage projects totaling over $8.1 billion in investment and more than 9,300 announced jobs, according to the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. In 2022, the last year they are available, Kentucky’s agricultural cash receipts totaled $8.3 billion, up from $6.9 billion in 2021 and a new record high.

“The record cash receipts number demonstrates the strength of our state’s agriculture industry, and that is a direct result of the dedication we see from our farm families throughout the commonwealth,” said Mark Haney,president of the Kentucky Farm Bureau.

Kentucky bourbon is a $9 billon industry
Kentucky burbon is a $9 billon industry.
Image Courtesy of Kentucky Distillers Association

Corn, which supports the state’s $9 billion booming bourbon industry, led the way for Kentucky, followed by broilers, soybeans, livestock, hay, eggs, tobacco, milk and wheat. More than 73,000 farms, seventh highest in the nation, cover close to 13 million acres. 

Building on a history of agricultural innovation, Kentucky has set a goal of becoming “the agricultural technology capital of the U.S.” by 2030. A collaboration with the Netherlands, a global leader in agritech research, is one of the partnerships propelling the state’s ambitions to help provide abundant fresh, local and affordable food while using less land and creating skilled jobs. Kentucky is currently home to more than 200 agribusiness-related facilities that employ over 20,000 people. Kentucky Fresh Harvest in Stanford, Stellar Plants in Nicholasville and West Kentucky Aquaponic in Benton are among the vertical farming operations leading the way.

In September 2023, 80 Acres Farms, a supplier to Kroger, joined this growing movement when it launched operations at a 200,000--square-foot indoor farm in Boone County. The operation is initially growing greens, basil and microgreens with the capability to produce other crops such as berries and tomatoes.

“Kentucky’s leadership in agritech has made this possible,” said 80 Acres CEO and Co-founder Mike Zelkind. “We hope this is just the beginning of our collaboration with the commonwealth.” 

Adam Bruns
Editor in Chief of Site Selection magazine

Adam Bruns

Adam Bruns is editor in chief and head of publications for Site Selection, and before that has served as managing editor beginning in February 2002. In the course of reporting hundreds of stories for Site Selection, Adam has visited companies and communities around the globe. A St. Louis native who grew up in the Kansas City suburbs, Adam is a 1986 alumnus of Knox College, and resided in Chicago; Midcoast Maine; Savannah, Georgia; and Lexington, Kentucky, before settling in the Greater Atlanta community of Peachtree Corners, where he lives with his wife and daughter.

     





Team Kentucky: Gov. Andy Beshear shares his vision on the state's success and how he intends to grow the state's agritech sector.   






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