Business News for the Mississippi Delta

Heaton Pecans

Clarksdale Family Business Success Spreads Across Region

By Becky Gillette  •  Photography by Aaron Davis

There is nothing that says Southern Hospitality with food better than a gift box from Heaton Pecans in Clarksdale. The family operation that started forty years ago has now grown tremendously to offer pecan products through some of the largest online retailers in the country and in about forty-five stores in the South. That is in addition to wholesale inshell pecans in a wide region.

Cliff Heaton Sr., the son of the business founder, the late Bill Heaton, gives a lot of credit for the success of the business to his wife, Chris, who came up with the idea to expand into pecan gift packages, and to his two daughters, Cadey Heaton True and Ann Granville Heaton.  

“It was Chris’ idea to expand into gift items, not just shelled pecans,” says Cliff. “We went to markets around the country to find the best products we could. That is how we got into the big portion of our business, which is pecan gifts. We just kept expanding, got into the mail order business, and started mailing catalogs to everyone. When the Internet came along, we fumbled around. We were not tech savvy. Cadey came back, and she immediately took to it establishing a true online presence. Three years ago, our daughter Ann Granville came back and developed our business outside of our store here at the farm. The past few years we have been doubling our volume each year. It is just phenomenal what these girls have done. I am extremely proud of them. I spent thirty-five years in the business and, in seven years, they made a fool out of me.”

After graduating from Ole Miss in 2011, Cadey returned to work under the manager of Heaton Pecans. After four years, she took over as manager. Today, the Heatons have 180 acres of pecan groves on fertile, rich Delta farmland, an online store,, and sales on, and The business got a big lift when it was chosen as one of Oprah Winfrey’s Favorite Things, recommended Christmas gift items for 2021.

“That was a big deal,” says Cadey. “We have continued to grow and are now a year-round operation. My sister handles the retail side of it and anything else that is needed. She lives in Oxford and commutes here. This past year we hired a full-time shipping manager.”

Most of the sales are during the holiday season. Their most popular item is an assorted three-pound gift can with salted, chocolate and praline pecans. 

“A large part of our business is corporate orders with clients who order anywhere from 200 to 3,000 cans,” says Cadey. “Those are usually shipped through the Christmas holiday season. The volume was just unbelievable for this past year. This past season, 2023, was our biggest season to date. The business is growing a tremendous amount each year. We have lots to anticipate for the 2024 season to be prepared and have enough hands. It is under discussion right now deciding to have a twenty-four-hour shift in our manufacturing facility during the season.”

Heaton Pecans doesn’t do a great deal of marketing outside of advertising in Delta Magazine, and advertising on social media handled by a full-time employee. Word-of-mouth and happy repeat customers are major pluses.

Pecans, which are harvested in the fall, are definitely a Southern thing. When you are entertaining as a Southern or Delta lady, you are going to have some pecans as an appetizer, pecans on salads and/or pecan pies. When Heaton Pecans first launched selling pecan pies, they started out with 600 pies, and were sold out by the first week in December. 

The Heatons produce most of their own pecans but also outsource some. Pecans are a crop that takes patience. It averages ten years before they start producing, but then they can produce for seventy to seventy-five years. Pecans are known to produce better some years than others. 

“It is hit or miss on pecan years,” says Cadey. “We will have a great year and then a so-so year. It kind of alternates every year.”

 Cadey’s husband, Ford True, says it is important the pecan trees are properly cared for. The orchard is mowed and fertilized, and an entomologist comes around several times a month during growing season to check for pests like aphids and stinkbugs that will bite a hole in a pecan and damage it. Fungicides are used to control mold and mildew.

“Proper pruning of the tree is very important,” says Ford. “If you allow the tree to have too many branches, it restricts the air flow up the tree. The lack of wind circulation can affect disease and mold, things that affect the quality of the pecans.”

Their two best producing varieties are Stuart and Desirable. Those are very old varieties that have been around for many generations. Stuarts are smaller but have a high oil content. Desirable pecans are larger and easier to shell. 

They have recently planted fifteen acres in new trees, more modern varieties developed by the Cooperative Extension Service including Lakota and Syrup Mill. 

To harvest, they use a tree shaker with a big arm that squeezes the trunk of the tree and shakes it hard enough to make the pecans drop. Then mechanical harvesters pulled behind tractors use little fingers to pick up the pecans.

Ford loves being involved in the business.

“I enjoy carrying on a legacy, helping Cadey and her other family members carry on the tradition started by her grandfather and then expanded by her father,” says Ford. “Her grandfather was very well known for his knowledge and expertise in the pecan industry.”

True handles the inshell part of the business, wholesaling larger quantities of unshelled pecans to buyers all over Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma. 

“The people we sell to are larger producers who shell and clean the pecans, and then sell for all sorts of edible uses such as candy, pies and cakes,” says Ford. “Their local supply is not enough to keep up with that.” 

The Heaton family also believes in giving back with much of their profits going to the William Cliff Heaton Jr. Foundation. It was founded in memory of the Heaton’s son, “Little Cliff,” as he was known, who died of a drug overdose in 2017.

“We are a tight-knit, All-American family,” says his mother, Chris. “Drugs affect people from every walk of life. Little Cliff was a great person…people really loved him. He just couldn’t fight it; he lost the battle. Drugs have just become a major problem in our country. It is overwhelming. There is a stigma with drug addiction, but it is a disease just like cancer. Our child did not want to be a drug addict. Little Cliff was a great guy. People loved him. We miss him a lot. A lot of people do. It is just sad he took that road and his life ended that way.”

A year after he died, the Heatons decided they wanted to help others fight this battle by starting their foundation. 

“We just want to help anyone in any way we can,” says Chris. “We want to provide hope for those struggling with drug addictions so they won’t have to go through what our family went through.”

The foundation started with helping with drug education programs in Clarksdale. Then they got a call from Trey Lewis, someone who had lived nearby in Clarksdale and knew Chris and the rest of the family. Trey had also battled drug addiction.

“Trey had gone through as many drugs as Cliff,” says Chris. “Trey was really touched by the death of Little Cliff and wanted to help other people facing this battle. He opened Good Landing Recovery near Atlanta, Ga., because of Cliff. We like that it is a Christian-based alcohol and drug rehab center. It just all came together. One year after we started our non-profit foundation, we sent our first child there. We have sent about sixty kids there now. It has warmed our hearts to see something good coming out of the tragedy that happened to our family. We hoped to save one life and we feel we have been able to do more helping beat this demon of drugs in some form or fashion.”

Cliff Sr. and Chris lived at Good Landing Recovery for a year helping with programs. They made close connections with many of the residents, and keep in touch with them.

They use Instagram and other social media to let young adults looking for help know about their services. It doesn’t have to be Good Landing Recovery; other alternatives are available including day treatment.  

“This year I really want to concentrate on education,” says Chris. “We really want to focus on fentanyl. That wasn’t around when Cliff was here. It is overwhelming how this can take someone in a minute. Since Cliff has died, the number of people dying from drug addiction has soared. It has gone up from 72,000 deaths in 2017 to 110,000 in 2022.”