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Pecan business sweeter than ever

Tracy-Luckey looks to future growth of candy

Posted: December 31, 2014 - 12:17am
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Belt graders remove pecan pieces that don't meet the quality standards for production at Tracy-Luckey Pecan Company in Harlem.  Photos by Jim Blaylock
Photos by Jim Blaylock
Belt graders remove pecan pieces that don't meet the quality standards for production at Tracy-Luckey Pecan Company in Harlem.

Chances are that slice (or two) of pecan pie you enjoyed over the Christmas holidays contained Georgia grown pecans. There’s also a good chance those pecans passed through Harlem along the way to the pie shell and your stomach.

Tracy-Luckey Co. which has been in business since 1937, still produces millions of pounds of the pecans that are baked into holiday pies and cookies, or incorporated into various other recipes in dishes and desserts throughout the land.

Most of the 50,000 pounds the plant processes each day result in raw pecan halves or pieces in a sundry of sizes that are meant to be used as ingredients in other foods, said CEO Ruth Tracy, who directs sales and marketing for Tracy-Luckey .

But Tracy, the daughter or Tracy-Luckey founder Francis Tracy, has been watching that change over the past several years.

Raw pecans are still the bread and butter of the business, but candied pecans – with flavors such as “Angel Honey,” “Key Lime” and “Sweet Georgia Heat” -- are fast becoming a bigger part of the company’s profits, Tracy said.

“Candy has gotten really big for us,” Tracy said, “We’ve had to add a second shift to candy production.”

Candy production has been small a part of the company business since the 1970s, when they began producing pecan pralines for ice cream companies. Now candy is the fastest growing product line.

Since 2011, production of candy products has grown by about 278 percent, according to Chief Financial Officer Ed Wicker. Wicker estimated the company will produce more than 550,000 pounds of candy this year.

The nuts are still produced in much the same way they always have been. Truckloads of pecans arrive at the plant during the harvesting period, which begins in late October and can last through Februrary. An array of machines grade, crack, shell and sort the pecans into various categories, each with specific uses.

In the end, however, it comes down to people to sort though the final product and to make the candy in giant copper kettles, said Russell Cook, plant manager, who has worked at Tracy-Luckey for 33 years.

Tracy said that the growth of raw pecan exports in recent years, has the company looking at possible sales of candied pecans overseas. China has become a major consumer of American pecans.

“China probably bought over 40 percent of the Georgia crop this year,” said Tracy, who sees it as a plus for her business and for farmers who want to continue growing pecans.

Tracy said they are exploring plans to introduce the company’s candied pecans to China, perhaps in the next year.

In the meanwhile, there will still be plenty of pecans for pies and ice cream in the U.S., as well as other healthier dishes, such as salads.

Tracy said pecans and other nuts are already staples on restaurant menus around the world.

“If you look at the menu there is going to be a salad with some kind of nut in it,” she said.

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