Deana Tanner Bibb turned her love of making pimento cheese into a successful food business.

Deana Tanner Bibb turned her love of making pimento cheese into a successful food business.

It was a romance with Southern culture and winning the Flavor of Georgia contest that catapulted Deana Tanner Bibb to launch Proper Pepper. It all began when a neighbor brought her homemade pimento cheese as a welcome gift. Bibb was struck by the delicious taste and texture of this Southern staple after having only experienced mass-produced, manufactured pimento cheese.

Bibb tweaked the recipe, choosing her favorite brand of cheese, and for the next 20 years, she made small batches of her pimento cheese, serving it at family reunions and football tailgates, even donating gallons of the food to fundraisers. In 2013, an aspiring salsa maker inspired Bibb to market her pimento cheese. Within 11 months, she became licensed, won a statewide contest and launched Proper Pepper, selling her product in more than 30 stores across Georgia.

“I knew my family enjoyed my pimento cheese, but the thought of marketing never crossed my mind. I couldn’t fathom the idea that someone would actually buy it,” she laughs.

Kessler and McFerrin, Dena’s daughters, enjoy their mom’s cheese.

Kessler and McFerrin, Dena’s daughters, enjoy their mom’s cheese. Kessler and McFerrin enjoy their mom’s cheeses.

In Georgia, small food processors (produced in commercial kitchens) and cottage food businesses (produced in regulated home kitchens) make a wide range of specialty food products, from breads to cakes to pies – and, of course, pimento cheese. Proper Pepper is one of many local food businesses part of Georgia Grown, a marketing and economic development program of the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

“The Georgia Grown family has introduced me to a wealth of knowledge,” says Bibb, who had spent countless hours researching and developing her product.

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“I had no idea I had access to so many statewide services until attending a Georgia Grown symposium. My circle of business support grew far beyond my family and friends into a world of people with a great depth of food manufacturing knowledge at my fingertips. The Center for Innovation provides the bird’s eye view for how the ecosystem of agriculture works in Georgia. I’m pleased to be part of such a forward-thinking agriculture community.”

In 2015, Proper Pepper won the Flavor of Georgia Award, which Bibb says felt surreal. “The realization that 13 judges chose my product to win the dairy category was a moment that I will never forget,” she says. “It was the tipping point for my going into business. Being a Flavor of Georgia winner has been the key conversation starter when approaching retailers.”

Goodson Pecans, right, sells Georgia Grown pecans and its own handcrafted pecan butter.

Goodson Pecans, right, sells Georgia Grown pecans and its own handcrafted pecan butter.

Goodson Pecans

In 1972, Georgians Roy and Ruth Goodson bought their first pecan grove in Thomas County. Now, 45 years later, family-owned and -operated Goodson Pecans continues to grow and sell premium Georgia pecans.

“I would say much of our success has come from our desire to grow, produce and sell quality pecans and pecan products, while at the same time offering excellent customer service,” says David Goodson, Roy and Ruth’s son. “I’ve learned from my parent’s example of doing what you do with excellence. Even as a young child, I saw my dad work hard year after year to care for the trees and produce quality pecans. This desire for excellence in our work has been a driving force for us in the manufacturing and retail side of things.”

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Although Roy had been growing and gifting in-shell pecans for more than three decades, David and his wife, Melody, officially began their cottage foods business in 2009, selling shelled pecan halves and pieces on the internet and to local stores and customers.

“Year after year, people would come back asking for these pecans because they knew they had great quality,” David says. “I remember in 2007 sitting in the back of my dad’s truck telling him and my brother that we needed to start selling these pecans online. I said the same thing to them the next year. But by 2009 I decided that I needed to stop talking and
start acting.”

Goodson Pecans remained a cottage food business until 2015, when it expanded with a manufacturing and retail facility in Leesburg. They also started selling their very own pecan butter.

“We were amazed at the growth we began to see in our small business, especially the local support,” Goodson says. “During the busy holiday season, we were  not able to keep some items, like our premium handcrafted pecan butter, on the shelf.”

The expansion means the company is no longer a cottage food business; however, the company remains a Georgia Grown member turning the page on a new chapter. David believes the program has been an important part of the company’s success and growth.

“I believe consumers – especially Georgia consumers – are beginning to equate Georgia Grown products with quality products,” he says. “That is one reason I love having the Georgia Grown logo on our products. It stands for quality, and as I have said before, we strive for the best in pecans on the farm and with our business. I also believe when you purchase Georgia Grown products you are continuing to give back to the state and local community.”

Plus, he adds, “The best-tasting pecans come from Georgia!”

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