By Ryan Waldrep, Assistant Director for Entrepreneur and Small Business Development
Nothing screams Southern cuisine like fried chicken, sweet tea, banana puddin’ and pimento cheese. Ok, I know you’re probably thinking of that pimento cheese that looks like wallpaper paste, but hang with me and let me introduce you to Deana Tanner Bibb, the Chief Batch Maker at Proper Pepper Small Batch Pimento Cheese.
The story of Proper Pepper didn’t start as many great food stories begin. The recipe wasn’t passed down from past generations, never written down, but by word of mouth.
But Deana’s love of southern hospitality and a random encounter introduced her to a new kind of pimento cheese. After some tinkering in her kitchen, Deana perfected her recipe and began making pimento cheese for family members and events around Sandersville. As in many small towns, word traveled fast and soon people were placing orders.
Drawing from her experience in marketing and public relations, Deana quickly realized that there was an opportunity here and conducted research for over a year. The recipe was adjusted a little more, and a new flavor, “Get Back Jack,” was introduced. With the encouragement of friends and family, Deana entered the annual Flavor of Georgia contest in March 2015, and won with the new product. By Memorial Day of that year, Proper Pepper was launched.
To say that Proper Pepper has been embraced by consumers is an understatement. The company generally gains two new retail outlets a month, with some months garnering 8-10 new locations. In fact, Proper Pepper gained a new store during my visit!
However, the company has worked to carefully control its growth as each batch is handmade. With one full-time employee, two part-time employees (a courier and packager) and a host of family volunteers, Proper Pepper produces 1,500 units per month, or the equivalent of 950 pounds. Most customers are within two hours of Sandersville.
What is the most rewarding part of the business? “Consistent affirmation that my product is delicious,” says Deana. “I just know it’s good.”
Although Deana wears many hats, she has made Proper Pepper so successful by engaging other organizations within Georgia for assistance. Groups such as the University of Georgia’s Food Science Department, the Georgia Department of Agriculture, Georgia Grown, the Georgia Center of Innovation for Agribusiness and the Small Business Development Center each have played important roles in the growth of the Proper Pepper.
Classes, seminars and speaking opportunities have each played valuable roles in the success of the company. Even with her marketing expertise, Deana engaged the assistance of a marketing firm to design the Proper Pepper labels, website and overall image.
So, what’s next? New flavors are in the works to add additional variety to the product offerings. Proper Pepper will continue to tackle challenges like transportation costs and improving shelf life. These improvements will allow further saturation of the Georgia market, and then a look towards expansion in neighboring states.
I think their website says it best: “Proper Pepper’s brand represents and celebrates all of the fine things our family appreciates like seersucker suits, Coca-Cola, bowties, peach cobbler, a hand-written thank you note, little girl bishop dresses, old houses, peonies, and suppers on the side porch. So wherever you are with your Proper Pepper, don’t forget to raise your glass and toast to the finer things in life, like great Georgia style, history and taste!”
Be sure to check out www.properpepper.com for boutique retail locations and specialty foods stores that carry Proper Pepper near you!
Got a Small Business question? Start the conversation! Contact Ryan Waldrep, Assistant Director for Entrepreneur and Small Business Development.