By Mark H. Stowers • Photography by Jason Williams
Redemption always leads to a good story and there’s no former business in the Magnolia State that could use a good shot of it than the former beef plant in Oakland, Mississippi. The North Mississippi plant located in Yalobusha County was supposed to be a savior for the states beef industry but became a symbol of failure.
But that’s all in the past. The 140,000-square foot facility had been shuttered for several years until Windsor Foods out of Houston, Texas bought it, retooled it and reopened it in 2007. The company first employed 250 people but added jobs in both 2010 and 2013.
In 2014, Windsor Foods was bought by Ajinomoto – a Japanese company – and became Ajinomoto Windsor Foods. According to their website, they “market high-quality specialty frozen foods for consumers, commercial restaurants and foodservice operators from 10 plants in eight states.”
Bob Tyler, director of the Yalobusha County Economic Development Agency noted the county “owns the land and Ajinomoto owns the facility. After the beef plant failed, Community Bank took over the facility and Windsor Foods bought the plant and then Ajinomoto bought Windsor out.”
Tyler noted there have been “three or four expansions over the years and down the road there will be another expansion of some kind.”
James Wilson, general manager of Ajinomoto Windsor Oakland Facility
noted, “Currently, the Ajinomoto Windsor Oakland, Mississippi location employs 405 employees. We utilize cleaning services provided by PSSI (Packers Sanitation Services Inc.) that consist of an additional 43 personnel.”
Ajinomoto Windsor expanded in 2016 and could be adding more capacity as certain foods gain popularity.
“There are multiple versions of plans to continue the growth at this facility,” Wilson says. “In 2016, we added a Rice manufacturing line to gain capacity for the company and if sales continue to increase per current trend, added capacity will be required in the near future.”
Annually, the plant produces an estimated 50 million pounds of finished food products according to Wilson.
“We currently we have a bakery and four production lines which produce over 160 SKUs of finished goods,” he says.
The former beef plant that failed is now a shining award-winning example in the food industry.
“We received Industry of the Year for 2017 from the North Mississippi Industrial Development Association for our contribution to our community, dedication for excellence in manufacturing, and appreciation of our employees,” Wilson says. “A proclamation was written and issued to us from the State that identifies the involvement and sustainment we share with our area.”
Overall, the partnership with Ajinomoto Windsor, the local area and state has been a growing positive one.
“The collaboration with Yalobusha County, TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority), and the MDA (Mississippi Development Authority) has been very beneficial to the company. They are very supportive of our operations and a true asset to our organization,” Wilson says.
After purchasing the former beef plant and transforming it into a frozen food manufacturing plant, Windsor and then Ajinomoto Windsor Foods have put every square-inch to good use.
“Our Oakland, Mississippi plant is a 204,000 square-foot facility which includes 90,000 square-foot production, 24,000 square-foot bakery and waste water treatment,” Wilson says. “We produce high quality egg rolls, burritos/chimichanga, mini Tacos / enchiladas, and various Fried Rice. Future plans are to become a Center of Excellence in Food Manufacturing through Innovation utilizing our Research and Development, Engineering and Continuous Improvement departments.”
The Mississippi Development Authority has been working with both Windsor Foods and Ajinomoto Windsor since they bought in back in 2007. The January of 2016 expansion Wilson described cost $20 million dollars. Governor Phil Bryant was on hand with Ajinomoto Windsor representatives last year to announce the expansion and investment into the plant.
“Ajinomoto Windsor is a valued member of the north Mississippi business community and an important business partner to the state. This latest expansion serves as a testament to the supportive business climate and quality workforce companies find throughout all of Mississippi,” Governor Phil Bryant says. “I thank the Ajinomoto Windsor team for once again growing its Oakland operations and for creating so many new jobs for the area’s residents. I wish the company many more years of success in Yalobusha County.”
Ajinomoto Windsor Vice President of Operations Steve Charles says at the time that he understands the ingredients of success include working with state and county government.
“Ajinomoto Windsor is very appreciative of the support we have received from the city of Oakland, Yalobusha County and the state of Mississippi since we began our journey together in 2007. We are excited about this new opportunity as we look to continue to grow our operations here in Mississippi,” Charles says. “The support we have received that helped us move forward with this latest expansion is a great opportunity for us all.”
The MDA helped specifically by providing assistance for infrastructure improvements. According to the MDA, the Appalachian Regional Commission and Tennessee Valley Authority provided assistance, as well.
“We salute the talented teams at the Yalobusha County Economic Development District, Appalachian Regional Commission, TVA and the Yalobusha County Board of Supervisors who, together with the MDA team, assisted in Ajinomoto Windsor’s latest expansion, creating new career opportunities for the people of Yalobusha County,” says MDA Executive Director Glenn McCullough. “New careers are imperative to a healthy economy, and we thank Ajinomoto Windsor for its commitment to Oakland and Yalobusha County.”
Founded in 1996, Ajinomoto Windsor manufactures and markets high-quality specialty frozen foods for consumers, commercial restaurants and foodservice operations from nine plants in six states. In 2014, Windsor Foods became a member of Ajinomoto Co., global manufacturer of high-quality seasonings, processed foods, beverages, amino acids, pharmaceuticals and specialty chemicals. For more information, visit www.windsorfoods.com.
The Ajinomoto Company has roots that date back to 1917 when they opened a New York office. The company produces frozen appetizers, Asian, Italian and Mexican foods, Meats and Chili, custom products as well as private brands. Their consumer brands include Tai Pei, Ajinomoto Frozen Foods, Ling Ling Asian Kitchen, HonDashi, Jose Ole and VIP. Their seasonings and sauces include Ajinomoto and HonDashi and their foodservice brands include Golden Tiger, Amoy, Posada, Bernardi, Fred’s For Starters, The Original Chili Bowl and Whitey’s Premium.
The original plant opened in 2004 but closed three months later due to failed equipment and a lack of operating capital. It cost the state $55 million dollars and the Tennessee businessman that had concocted the idea and got the Mississippi legislature to bite was sentenced to eight years in prison back in 2007. The planners got justice but now the plant is getting its redemption and revival.