Flowers Foods has become one of the largest producers of fresh baked goods in the United States. Headquartered in Thomasville, Flowers Foods began as a local provider of fresh bread and grew to become one of the largest bakery operations in the nation. Flowers had sales of more than $2 billion in 2007, and its products, including several well-known brands of bread, are distributed nationally.
What is known today as Flowers Foods began almost a century ago as the Flowers Baking Company. Two brothers, William Howard Flowers, known as Howard, and Joseph Hampton Flowers, created the Flowers Ice Cream Company in 1914 but, noticing that Thomasville residents had a need for fresh bread, opened a bakery in 1919. The business flourished during its first decade of operation. During the 1920s the Flowers bakery shipped bread, rolls, and cakes by rail throughout southern Georgia and into Alabama and Florida.
Growth and Diversification
During this time Howard ran the bakery, leaving the ice cream business to Joseph. When Howard died in 1934, his son Bill, twenty years old and a recent graduate of Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, took charge of the company. Although the nation was in the middle of the Great Depression, the Flowers bakery survived and even managed to expand its operations. In 1937 it acquired an existing bakery in Tallahassee, Florida. The demands of World War II (1941-45) soon had the Flowers bakery operating at full capacity, providing bread to military camps throughout the Southeast.
In 1942 the Flowers bakery became a member of the Quality Bakers of America (QBA), a baking industry cooperative. That same year, the QBA developed the “Little Miss Sunbeam” logo for its Sunbeam-brand bread. It quickly became one of America’s most well-known logos and is still found today on Sunbeam’s packaging. Flowers began producing, marketing, and selling Sunbeam bread and experienced a great deal of success with the brand. (All members of the cooperative are licensed to bake and sell Sunbeam products.) The company continued to grow steadily during the 1950s and by the beginning of the 1960s had more than 500 employees and sales totaling more than $6 million annually.
During the 1960s the Flowers Baking Company purchased bakeries in Opelika, Alabama, and Panama City, Florida. In 1965 the company built a new bakery in Jacksonville, Florida, and in 1967 Flowers broke into the important and potentially lucrative metropolitan Atlanta market with the purchase of the Atlanta Baking Company.
To generate the necessary capital to fuel further growth, the company went public in 1968 and changed its name to Flowers Industries Inc. Stock sales brought in more than $2 million and ignited a flurry of acquisitions. The company bought bakeries in Alabama, Louisiana, Virginia, and the Carolinas. It diversified its holdings in 1976 with the purchase of Stillwell Foods, a producer of frozen vegetables. Expansion created the need for a new corporate headquarters, and in 1975 the company moved to a new complex located on fifteen acres just south of Thomasville. The company further diversified during the 1980s, entering into the production and sale of cookies and sandwiches, which it exited at the end of the decade. The company also continued to purchase existing bakeries in the Southeast and Southwest.
Starting in the 1990s, Flowers Industries underwent a series of changes. The most significant year was 1996, when the company purchased the national Mrs. Smith’s brand of frozen desserts and acquired the Keebler cookies and cracker company through a joint venture. By the turn of the millennium, the company had shifted its focus back to traditional bread and snack cakes. In 2001 the company sold Keebler, delivering $1.24 billion to Flowers shareholders. With this transaction, the company spun itself off into a new company called Flowers Foods. In 2003 it sold Mrs. Smith’s Bakery.
Flowers Foods continues its tradition of producing and marketing bread while expanding into new markets. The company currently consists of two operating groups, Flowers Bakeries and Flowers Specialty. The Bakeries division produces and markets breads under the Sunbeam brand as well as under other well-known brands, such as Nature’s Own and Cobblestone Mill. To take advantage of the growing Hispanic market, the Specialty division produces a line of snack cakes that are marketed under the Tesoritos brand and found in supermarkets and convenience stores around the country.