Foods is here to stay

Published 1:54 pm Wednesday, January 6, 2016

By Diana McFarland

News editor

Smithfield Foods may have a new president and CEO, but corporate headquarters will remain firmly rooted in Smithfield.

“I’m a Virginia boy. Smithfield is a Virginia company,” said Foods’ new President and CEO Kenneth M. Sullivan during an interview in his office Monday.

Sullivan took over the reigns after former President and CEO C. Larry Pope announced he was retiring at the end of 2015 after 35 years with the company.

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Sullivan, who grew up in Northern Virginia, came to Foods in 2003 as vice president of internal audit and most recently as chief financial officer before assuming the job of president and chief operating officer last year. He lives in Richmond and has commuted to his job in Smithfield for the past 12 years.

Smithfield Foods’ future is bright and there are no plans to change anything, Sullivan said.{mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Concerns about Foods keeping its corporate headquarters, as well as Smithfield Packing, in its hometown have persisted since being purchased by the China-based Shuanghui, now WH Group, in 2013.

The purchase by WH Group was not a catalyst for a major change in direction for the company, Sullivan said.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be future changes, Sullivan said. The pork industry is dynamic and Smithfield Foods has to “reinvent” itself regularly to meet changing conditions.

The only immediate change is an increase in pork shipments to China, he said. That has been a goal since the purchase of the company in 2013. The U.S. has an excess supply of pork and exporting meat to China allows Foods to obtain a better price for its product, Sullivan said.

That doesn’t mean the number of hog production operations will increase, however. The industry has become far more efficient, and today produces more pork from fewer animals because of larger litters, bigger hogs and other advances in the past few decades, he said.

And as fresh pork consumption is not growing in the U.S., the company continues to fine tune and grow its packaged meats division, Sullivan said.

And the Smithfield brand reinforces the company’s ties to Smithfield, he said, adding that new employees are being located in town rather than in other offices across the country.

“We’re growing,” Sullivan said.

At the same time, many in town fear losing retail businesses on Main Street to office space, as Foods owns several buildings downtown.

Recently, Imagine Art Studios closed to make way for Foods’ offices. Sullivan doesn’t anticipate any further changes such as that on Main Street.

Sullivan explained the “One Smithfield” concept, which the company launched last year, is aimed at putting all of its subsidiary operations under one umbrella, rather than having each managed independently. A major part of that change is consolidation of marketing and sales efforts. As a result, Smithfield should see an increase in sales volume this year, he said.

Sullivan is scheduled to speak at the upcoming Isle of Wight Chamber of Commerce sponsored Richard Holland pre-legislative breakfast Thursday at The Smithfield Center. {/mprestriction}