US Business Executive Case Study

For more than 30 years, Diversified Foods & Seasonings LLC (DFS) has been developing ingredients that take fantastic food to the next level. The Louisiana-based company, located on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, manufactures custom-cooked foods, blended dry marinades, gravies, sauces, as well as batters and breading that give fried chicken and seafood an extra kick with that perfect crunch and savory sauces with intense, deep flavor.

DFS’ roots run deep in the south with three manufacturing facilities located in Theodore, Ala., Madisonville, La., as well as Nebraska City, Neb. The company’s culinary team of chefs and food scientists are passionate about creating appetizing, flavorful dishes based in the rich culture and tradition of southern Louisiana’s Creole and Cajun-style cuisine.

The company has been playing up the authentic flavor since 1983 when Al Copeland established DFS to support his Popeye’s Famous Fried Chicken (Popeye’s) operation.  “Al founded Popeye’s in 1972 and DFS was created to supply the restaurants with fully cooked products, such as red beans, Cajun meat and gravy, as well as batters, breadings, spices, sauces, gravies, biscuit mixes and mac and cheese,” shares Peter Smith, now president and CEO of DFS.

Over the last 40 years, Popeye’s has grown from a local hot spot to 1,678 domestic locations and 450 international stores; DFS supplies each, in addition to other full-service restaurant chains. As a manufacturer, co-packer and distributor, the company offers a range of custom products driven by innovation.

Putting it to the Test

For DFS, product development is much more than creating a great tasting item, it’s about continuous innovation. The company has a research and development team located in a culinary technology center in Madisonville, hosting full-time professional chefs and food scientists.

“Our strength is in our manufacturing infrastructure and the talent of our culinary center,” reveals Smith. “We have chefs who specialize in using true Louisiana-inspired flavors. We also specialize in kettle-cooked products and are one of the largest red bean purveyors in the country.”

From chicken noodle soup to corn and crab bisque, BBQ to Béchamel, Queso to Marinara sauce, DFS offers a range of slow-cooked products that have been tested to high standards. DFS also produces mac and cheese, traditional Jambalaya, black beans, red beans and southern-style grits. Additionally, the company turns out biscuit and cake mixes and savory batters, seasoning blends and gravies for restaurant clients.

The Room and Know-how to Grow

Even with a diverse product range, Smith says DFS remains lean, nimble and very organized. “We want to be a speed boat, not an ocean liner,” he explains. Smith, who joined DFS in January 2013, has big plans for the company.

Smith’s goal is to streamline operations while expanding DFS’ product lines, and he has the know-how to do it. “I started out in with Proctor and Gamble and eventually went to work for H.J. Heinz, StarKist Seafood and Ebro Foods,” he recalls. “I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to be the CEO of the leading U.S. tuna, StarKist; pasta, New World Pasta; and rice, Riviana Foods, companies and I am excited to be able to draw from that experience.”

With a corporate leadership background, Smith set out to grow DFS the same way he has done for numerous other companies. “I like to see companies grow and prosper,” he imparts. “In just a year we’ve expanded our customer base plus provided additional co-packing for major manufacturers and quick-service restaurants [QSRs].”

However, that is not all the company is taking on. “We’re also branding our own retail product called Chef’s Creations,” continues Smith. “It’s a first for DFS. The refrigerated product will be geared toward the southwest and southeast with flavors, such as Black Bean Chili and Jambalaya. We’re also growing our co-packing business; we want to be a world-class co-packer for a variety of manufacturers. To keep up with the demand we just added a multimillion dollar upgrade in robotic automation at our Madisonville plant.”

However, expansion hasn’t been completely smooth sailing for DFS. “We’re always dealing with the volatility of the raw material market,” details Smith. “For example, beef just hit a record high and there are always fluctuations in wheat, dairy and cheese, but we’re staying in the game through innovative procurement practices.”

Smith reveals that a waffle chicken tender batter system that DFS manufactures for the Popeye’s chain was recently featured on Good Morning America. “This has been a really hot item in maple and vanilla flavors,” he notes. “Waffle-type products are becoming more popular with American consumers.”

After 30 years supporting full-service restaurants, QSRs and now more retailers, Smith sees a bright future for DFS and continued diversification. Leave it to Diversified Foods & Seasonings LLC to deliver a solution that achieves the best possible product for a specific marketplace, backed by a visionary culinary team and authentic flavors.