Local Companies Produce Nationally Distributed Sweets

Success smells sweet in the Rocky Mount area, where tasty treats including muffins, pound cakes, cheesecakes, croissants, cream puffs and éclairs are produced for distribution across the country and beyond.

From the Sara Lee Corp. plant in Tarboro to the Poppies International and Cheesecake Factory facilities in Battleboro, and Interstate Bakeries Corp.’s Merita Bread Bakery in Rocky Mount, food manufacturing has a strong presence here – for good reason.

The location offers easy access to major transportation routes for shipping the goods. In addition to providing thousands of jobs for local workers, the bakeries also are involved in the community in various ways.

“We make primarily all the sweet good products – so anything from pound cakes, muffins, cheesecakes, Danish,” says Paul Clark, plant manager at the Sara Lee Corp. Tarboro bakery, opened in 1989. “We make sheet cakes and layer cakes and whipped cream layer cakes. We do a lot of cobblers and we do a lot of croissants here.”

Clark says the goods are shipped frozen all over North America. Tarboro has been a good home for the 400,000-square-foot plant, he adds. Sara Lee is one of the largest employers in Edgecombe County.

“The city of Tarboro [residents] are good people to work with,” Clark says. “ … I think they’re very happy to have us here, and we’re very happy to be here, so it’s a good working relationship.

“The quality of life is very good. People enjoy working here; I think they work pretty hard,” says Clark, who has been in his present post for three years. “We are involving ourselves in the community in a pretty heavy way with a number of organizations. I think it is truly a win-win for us and the community.”

Poppies International Inc. of Flanders, Belgium, opened a bakery and its U.S. headquarters in Battleboro in 2001. Luc Kerkhof, vice president, has been on board since its planning stages. The bakery employs about 55 production workers and half a dozen administrative staff and produces cream puffs and mini éclairs. The plant, which has expanded since it opened, operates 24 hours a day, five days a week, Kerkhof says.

“I built it [the plant],” Kerkhof says. “I know it from even under the ground. I started at the foundation, and I can tell you stories about every square foot of this building.”

The baked goods from Poppies’ Battleboro location are shipped frozen with other company products across the United States, Canada and Korea.

Schoolchildren are welcomed for tours, Kerkhof says, something he remembers doing as a child in Europe.

“I love the look on their faces when I see these kids and they say ‘Wow – what is this?’” he says. “We try to treat them as nice as we can – give them the big tour and let them eat as much as they can.”

The Cheesecake Factory’s 107,000-square-foot bakery also is in Battleboro near Poppies and produces cheesecake and other desserts, says Keith Carango, senior vice president there.

Interstate Bakeries Corp. also has a facility here. The company markets products under brands such as Hostess, Merita and Wonder.