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Wednesday, 07 March 2012 21:33

Grant to help trout farm fish for new markets

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Sunburst Trout Farms in Haywood County plans to add jobs and expand its operations thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The farm received a nearly $300,000 Value Added Producers Grant from the USDA to help expand its market, namely finding new customers to buy more trout. The grant will help with everything from hiring a sales person to the upfront cost of trout fingerlings, which are then raised to full size at the farm.

Sunburst, founded by Richard Jennings, is a third generation family owned and operated company that processes fresh ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat trout products.

“The main goal is to stabilize things financially here,” said Sunburst’s Chef Charles Hudson. “We couldn’t have done it without that funding.”

The project, which will begin in April, will include purchasing more trout fingerlings, hiring new marketing and processing workers and installing new software to increase ordering efficiency. The plan is estimated to cost $500,000. The company was awarded $10,000 from the North Carolina Value-Added Cost Share Program in addition to the USDA grant.

Sunburst in particular hopes to increase business during winter months. The months of January, February and March are typically very slow for everyone in the mostly tourist-dependent region. The majority of Sunburst’s customers are within three hours of its Haywood County location.

But if the company is able to spread to new states, it could see more money rolling in throughout the year. One possible market is Florida, which gets a seasonal influx from people trying to escape the winter chill elsewhere.

“They (Florida) are busy when we are slow,” Hudson said.

Sunburst does not hatch its own trout from eggs but rather purchases them from trout hatcheries in Western North Carolina. The grant will allow them to increase the number of fish it purchases and therefore the number of trout it is able to sell.

Sunburst hopes to add about 100 new customers a year with the help of the grant funding.

To market the extra fish, Sunburst will also create a new marketing sales position. The job will include extensive travel and focus on expanding the company’s current market in the Southeastern U.S. Most of Sunbursts customers are restaurants, though their products are also available at some grocery stores.

Sunburst will add another two other positions to help carry the extra workload at its facility.

Last year, Sunburst sold about 250,000 pounds of trout. This year, it hopes to sell more than 300,000 pounds, Hudson said.

“It’s going to be a really good thing for not only us but for the county as a whole,” Hudson said.

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