Southern Ag Carriers drives ahead in its quest to become a national logistics leader in an essential niche
There’s no such thing as small peanuts for the people of Southern Ag Carriers, INC. Since their founding in 1991 by the Griffin family, they’ve become the most in-demand specialty transportation experts in the industry. From their Albany, Ga., headquarters, SoAg serves some of the biggest CPG players in the game, including Mars, P&G, and ConAgra, hauling the peanuts, cotton, pecans, and other agricultural products they need to keep retail shelves full and customers satisfied.
Transporting peanuts is a multi-stage process that requires expertise and attention to detail. Realizing that Georgia farmers needed solid, reliable partners to help them get goods to market, founder Henry Griffin established SoAg to serve them exclusively. Today, peanuts make up 48% of the goods SoAg hauls; the balance is made up of other agricultural products used in the manufacturing of processed foods.
Working directly with farmers and cooperatives, SoAg has cultivated a reputation for excellence that is propelling them to the national stage. The company provides in-house brokerage services, and their wholly owned subsidiary, multimodal 3PL Sentry Logistics Group of Dunn, NC, broadens their asset-based logistics services.
In 2020, the company partnered with the first-ever peanut shelling plant in Jonesboro, Ark., Delta Peanut, to become their primary transportation provider. “2020 had its challenges, but our decision to expand didn’t change and neither did theirs. They were successful and we were as well,” said SoAg CEO John Kenneally. “We always want to grow, and we like to grow within our bread-and-butter agricultural specialties, so when we had a customer opening up a new shelling plant we wanted to be there.”
Weathering pandemic-driven market shifts has been fairly easy for SoAg as their customers have pivoted to respond to the ways Americans eat these days. “Parents are making PB&J sandwiches a lot more today than they were a year ago,” Kenneally said. “The peanut crop was decimated. That’s not a bad thing; it was sold to almost the largest capacity ever.” With increased volumes being moved, SoAg has stayed busy, growing 13% in 2020.
While the Griffin family is still involved in the business, SoAg is currently owned by HCI Private Equity of Washington, D.C. “HCI is a different kind of PE firm,” Kenneally said. “As you’d expect, they hold us accountable to meeting our budget, producing results, and growing, but they also care about our people, and appreciate that ours is really a family business because we treat everyone like family here. They supported us throughout 2020, and this year we have a very aggressive growth plan. They’re incredibly supportive and we're very thankful that they're involved.”
SoAg’s approach to customer experience blends handling and storage expertise, technology, and old school relationship building, which creates a powerful differentiator from other commodity haulers and logistics groups. “Our locations are far away from the hustle and bustle of big cities, because we’re where the farmers are,” he explained. “Mars, ConAgra, P&G, and Hershey are corporate giants, but they still have people who represent them in small town markets because that's where their products originate from for the most part.”
Traditional values power the company’s success. “Everything that we do revolves around trust, loyalty, and a real family atmosphere, so when the market changes we don’t change our rates. Large CPG companies go to market every year with RFPs and hundreds of trucking companies respond with pricing,” he said.
“If the market shifts and they can get a higher rate somewhere else, carriers will do that because they commit to a price instead of to capacity. When we tell the people at Mars that we're going to haul at a certain rate this year, we're going to haul for them at that rate. We're going to be there for them when they need us. We hope they’d rather work with us because we're very dependable, trustworthy, and honest. We believe in partnerships. We don’t believe in transactional relationships.”
That approach is keeping SoAg growing. “We're not satisfied with just being a regional agricultural transportation company. We have ambitions to try new markets and bring what we’ve done in the Southeast to different parts of the United States,” he said. In addition to Jonesboro, SoAg currently has five facilities in Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas with further expansion plans for this year.
Leading from firsthand experience
“Our customers know that if they have a problem and it's 2 in the morning they can pick up the phone and we’ll fix it because we stand by our services,” he stressed. “When transportation managers work with us they know they don’t have to worry, because we bring a sense of security to transportation, which is a very volatile and stressful part of any organization.”
When Kenneally took the CEO chair in late 2019, he began digitization efforts. He was tasked with providing solutions that drivers would embrace, and that would keep the company’s family-friendly atmosphere intact. “We invested in McLeod software for our day-to-day operations and we are constantly reinvesting into the product to give us better transparency so we can run the operation more efficiently. We’ve upgraded our electronic logging system with tracking cameras and GPS in an all-in-one digital unit in every truck.” Expanded video capacity in the office helps leaders stay in touch with remote workers.
When Kenneally says he’s from a trucking family, he’s not talking about owning a corporation. His dad is a career driver for UPS, and his father-in-law drives for a major commercial carrier. He understands the issues truckers have because he was one himself. “There are publicly traded companies worth billions of dollars that wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for drivers. They’re great people who want to take care of their families and they just don't get the appreciation they deserve. I've been working with drivers now for 20 years, and I just don't think that drivers get enough credit for what they do.”
In their 30-year history, SoAg has thrived thanks to a sustainable business model that allows them to move quickly when disaster strikes, including the Great Recession, the current pandemic, and too many weather events to count. But at its core, it’s the company’s dedication to staying personal in a world where connections often disappear like a handful of peanuts. “We value our employees, our truck drivers, and our customers. It’s not a cliche when we say we treat everyone like family—we live it every day.”
Southern Ag Carriers is a family orientated transportation and logistics company founded over 25 years ago in Albany, GA. They specialize in hauling Peanuts, Cottons and Pecans with a focus on the Agriculture Transport side of Trucking.