Blount Fine Foods
The Blount story
New England roots
The genesis of Blount Fine Foods took place just after the Civil War when Blount family members came to work the rich oyster beds of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay. In 188o, Eddie B. Blount started an oyster packing firm in West Barrington, Rhode Island. In the early 20th century, Byron Blount, Eddie's son, carried on the business while his brother Willis Blount opened an ice packing plant nearby.
Francis "Nelson" Blount grew up working for his father Willis's ice works, and built the business selling ice to the nearby Army camps that sprang up during World War II. Then, restless under his father's wing, Nelson bought the 101-year-old Narragansett Oyster Company located on the Warren, Rhode Island waterfront. Pollution and weather had devastated the oyster beds so Nelson began supplying ocean quahogs—"black clams" recently discovered in large beds off of nearby Point Judith—to the military. In the postwar years the newly incorporated Blount Seafood Corporation shifted back to the more popular quahogs pulled by tongers from Narragansett Bay. Assisted by his uncle Byron and brother Luther, Nelson developed new machinery and grew his customer base. Although the company marketed a variety of seafood under its "Whitecap" and "Point Judith" labels, by the late 1940s the bulk of the business was in bay quahogs, and the largest customer by far was the Campbell Soup Company.
The Campbell Soup days
In the 1950s and 1960s Blount Seafood prospered as a supplier to the nation’s largest food processor, becoming a mainstay of the regional economy and a favored local employer. Technological improvement was critical to the Campbell relationship; Blount's block freezing capability assured Campbell a year-round clam meat supply. New, more efficient means of shucking clams and producing clam broth also benefitted Campbell and boosted Blount's bottom line. At the same time, the company upheld exceptionally high standards of safety and sanitation that kept it among the stars in the soup company's stable. As his firm flourished, Nelson Blount's outside interests multiplied. By the time he died in a 1967 aviation accident, the firm had long been under the direction of Nelson's lifelong friend, Fred Richardson. It was up to Richardson to solve a supply problem that arose during the 1960s as pollution and overfishing cut into the bay quahog supply. His solution: a return to the ocean quahogs upon which the company had been built.
A Transformed Market
It was only a temporary fix. By the 1970s fundamental change had swept through Blount's core market. Campbell had begun producing soups with much larger proportions of meat, and the tastes of chowder fans—now found nationwide rather than primarily in New England—began to shift to the sweeter meat of the sea clam found in deep Atlantic waters off the central U.S. coast. That led to more than a decade of experimentation led by Nelson's son Frederick Nelson "Ted" Blount. First, Blount Seafood found new sources of supply—launching its own boats and forging a relationship with the nation's top shell fishermen. Ted Blount also turned his engineering expertise to a new round of process innovation; his most notable achievement, replacing block frozen with individual quick frozen (IQF) clams. In the 1980s Blount began to seek independence in new markets, building lines of stuffed clams, sold under the Point Judith brand, and mussels marketed under the Whitecap label.
Building the Line
By the 1990s Blount management was convinced that continued growth could only be achieved through diversification beyond Campbell Soup, and, since clams were becoming an increasingly high volume, low margin product, beyond the old core business. A new round of innovation followed. A stronger sales team built up the market for mussels and stuffed clams. Acquisitions including New England Mussel Products and the Eastern Clam Corporation brought new offerings into the Blount fold and underscored the advantages of fielding high value, high margin products. The popularity of Blount's five pound bags of IQF clams gave the company a firm beachhead in the food service business. But by the late 1990s soup seemed to hold the most promise. Bisques and chowders were premium products, marketed under the Legal Sea Foods label and offered by grocery chains like Shaw's and restaurants such as Chart House. One of the first to recognize the potential of this new market was Ted Blount's son, F. Nelson "Todd" Blount, who set up the first dedicated soup production line in a corner of the Warren plant.
Blount Fine Foods
By the time Todd Blount took over the company in the spring of 2001, the best path forward was no longer in doubt. The Campbell Soup business was static and the seafood markets which had once seemed promising were all trending toward high volume, low margin commodity status. Soups, however, offered Blount a chance to serve new customers at prices that allowed for continued growth. With the acquisition of Great Soups Incorporated in 2000, Blount obtained the expertise necessary to expand well beyond bisques and chowders into meat soups. By the time the operations were moved into new quarters in Fall River, Massachusetts in 2004, sales of soup and other fine foods had far outstripped sales of older products. New and popular recipes were emerging from the company's Fall River test kitchen and Blount had moved beyond the food service sector to build close relationships with top restaurant and retail customers. The renaming of the company "Blount Fine Foods" in 2009, and the acquisition of Neco Foods two years later, took Blount deeper into dips, spreads and wet salads; they confirmed that Blount's future lay more than ever in its ability to produce high quality prepared foods for a variety of customers. As new products proliferate, bisques and chowders—lines strengthened by the acquisition of Cape Cod Chowder in late 2011—remain among Blount's most popular offerings. Although the Fall River plant was greatly expanded and the clam processing operations were sold in 2011, the company still produces seafood soups on the Warren waterfront, a reminder of the New England roots of the increasingly national Blount Fine Foods.
Becoming America’s brand for premium prepared foods
After 2011, the company’s growth accelerated. The focus: adding to the solid soup products foundation with new product lines and recipes for side dishes, sauces, entrees and other categories such as desserts -- all anchored with Blount’s strong premium brand position.
Major investments in infrastructure upped manufacturing capacity and further expanded state-of-the-art production processes. In 2013 and 2014, among other improvements, Blount installed advanced, energy-efficient chilling and freezing equipment and controls that doubled some capacities, constructed additions to manufacturing facilities, and installed major new soup cooking, filling, packaging and logistics equipment.
The Blount story continues to unfold, with growth supplying the underlying theme, and with the renewed vision of Blount Fine Foods as America’s brand for premium prepared foods supplying the story line.