Farmer Jon’s Popcorn is heading south from its Rochester, New York, base, choosing Lakeland as the location for its new manufacturing facility.

The company co-owned by Peter Causyn has leased warehouse space from The Ruthvens at 4000 N. Combee Road, choosing it over other locations in surrounding counties. This gives the gourmet popcorn company a southern base to serve its growing market here.

“Peter came in on February 13 for a site tour and made his decision to locate in Polk County by the end of the following week,” said Jennifer Taylor, vice president of business development at the Central Florida Development Council, which assisted in attracting Farmer Jon’s.

“We are delighted for Farmer Jon’s to join Lakeland and Polk County’s expanding food and beverage manufacturing community.  Our Central Florida location, the perfect food-grade building, and proximity to Publix and Sam’s Club were a priority for them, and we fit the bill perfectly.”

Farmer Jon’s is making a $3 million capital investment to purchase machinery and refit the 7,280-square-foot building. One of the reasons the company chose The Ruthvens site is the volume of space, Causyn said.

“The location allows rapid growth without having to relocate. We can get up to 30,000 or 40,000 square feet in the next year if we need to.”

Matt Ruthven, vice president of sales and leasing, said companies like The Ruthvens warehouses because they are “clean and new, with well-kept interiors and exteriors. We offer flexibility in size, location, construction type and the ability to grow anytime during the lease term.”

The Ruthvens’ 60-year history in building speculative warehouse space “has created countless opportunities for businesses to move out of the garage and into a warehouse and grow the local area to serve county or statewide needs,” Ruthven said.

Causyn said Polk County “is the perfect spot for us, with the workforce available, the education levels, type of workers. We thought there was a well-rounded community and we could find workers we need to help our business run smoothly.”

The company will hire about 25 employees in the next 18 months. Jobs range from production to packaging to warehouse. Openings will be announced on its Facebook page.

Moving to Florida

After three years in New York, where they have a 30,000-square-foot manufacturing plant and distribute across the country, they are expanding to save on their biggest expense: shipping costs.

“Florida is the first hub we are opening. We’ll use it as a regional center to supply all customers in the South and as far up as we can ship.” The goal is to have hubs in all communities in which they have large pockets of business.

Now, all products are trucked from either the farm in Iowa or the New York site.

Causyn worked with Taylor and other members of the CFDC to find a location in the Tampa/Orlando area, where shipping is favorable, he said. In addition, an employee had already moved to the area, so they have a plant manager in place.

They settled on Polk County after meeting Ruthven and his team, Causyn said. “The landlord understands what we are trying to accomplish. Jennifer and her team made community connections (suppliers, trucks, etc.) that are important to our business. Everything we need is right here in Lakeland.”

Construction should be completed by late June, at which time the plant will start producing popcorn, including 10 gourmet flavors like Peanut Butter Caramel and Chocolate Hazelnut Caramel. The company’s R&D staff in Rochester will also be developing seasonal flavors like Caramel Apple, which became so popular they couldn’t take it out of rotation, he said.

It’s All About the Corn

Local QVC viewers might already be familiar with Farmer Jon’s famous hull-less popcorn: The company appears on the network four to 20 times a month, Causyn said. In fact, he and his business partner, Jon Tiefenthaler, came up with the idea of hull-less popcorn 10 to 15 years ago when they were looking for a product to sell on QVC.

Tiefenthaler, a third-generation Iowa farmer, had been perfecting hull-less corn for years, Causyn said, and finally got it right. “The outer shell is very thin, so the popping process shatters the shell into little pieces instead of it staying intact. We started with microwave popcorn, and after several years customers started asking for caramel and cheese and other flavors, so we expanded.”

QVC helps Farmer Jon’s understand its customers and “helps us stay on top of trends and what other manufacturers are doing,” he said. QVC customers have voted Farmer Jon’s Popcorn the “Snack of the Year” two years in a row.

“Because we own our own farm, we control almost all of the raw ingredients from farm to table,” Causyn said. “It’s non-GMO corn. We control it for quality and consistency from start to finish.”

For now, Causyn is focused on the move. “We’re excited to get open down there.”

And Taylor and Ruthven are ready to welcome Farmer Jon’s.

“Popcorn is their passion, and that’s what they do,” Taylor said.

Ruthven added: “Farmer Jon’s popcorn does not get stuck in your teeth. (Peter) sent some to the office when we signed the lease and it disappeared almost overnight; it is delicious.”

Interested in learning more about expanding or relocating your business to Polk County, contact Jennifer Taylor, VP of Business Development for a confidential consultation. Jennifer can be reached at jennifer@cfdc.org or by calling 863.937.4430, ext. 105.