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R.G. Gunnoe Farms up for sale after ‘devastating’ past few years


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Five particularly difficult years in the Kanawha Valley have the owner of a nearly 70-year-old business looking for a buyer.

R.G. Gunnoe Farms, a Charleston wholesaler of items like cole slaw and macaroni salad, is up for sale after Kroger discontinued the sale of two of its items and the January 2014 Kanawha Valley water crisis settlement has been held up, according to Joy Gunnoe, the company’s owner.

R.G. Gunnoe Farms owner Joy Gunnoe, left, talks with 40-year employee Jan Proctor as the ingredients for cole slaw are mixed together Wednesday. The nearly 70-year-old business has been put up for sale, a decision Gunnoe says is the result of Kroger no longer selling two of the company’s products and the 2014 Kanawha Valley water crisis settlement not yet being finalized.
(Photo by Chris Dorst)

“I could’ve sold the company five times in the past,” she said. “But my dream has always been to continue the company. Now I just don’t think I’ll be able to.”

Kroger, which sells Gunnoe’s items regionally, said in a statement that it is discontinuing the company’s jalapeno spread and egg salad items “because of a lack of shelf space and lower sales.”

That reduces Gunnoe’s number of salad items in Kroger to seven, the statement said.

Gunnoe said Kroger is one of the company’s most important customers but that she ultimately understood its decision.

“We’re grateful for [Kroger],” she said. “Without them, the business would have never grown the way it has.”

Gunnoe said some members of the Gunnoe family have expressed interest in taking over the operation. She added that she would prefer a buyer that would keep the company name intact and continue selling its signature salads.

Although Gunnoe said the business climate in West Virginia is lackluster, she said the company’s reputation makes it worth the purchase.

“It’s simply that we have a 70-year history, and we guarantee the quality of what we sell,” Gunnoe said. “We made sure that even through the water crisis we made a product we could be proud of, even if that didn’t help us financially.”

Gunnoe said if the water crisis settlement wraps up soon and the company receives its payment, she will likely move forward with the company’s plans to expand its distribution to additional Kentucky and Ohio stores. She said she still has retirement on her mind at 64 years old, however, and would keep negotiations open for potential buyers.

Kroger discontinuing the two items sparked Gunnoe’s decision to pursue a sale, but she said the company already saw major losses due to the 2012 derecho and water crisis.

“We were without power a few days, and we couldn’t keep our food stored,” Gunnoe said of the derecho. “We lost everything from it.”

Gunnoe said the company managed to recover some of its losses from its insurance provider. When 2014 rolled around, the company was ready to hit the ground running. But then the water crisis happened.

The company had to use a 500-gallon water trailer in place of its regular water supply, she said, which was never enough for a company that heavily relies on purified water in salad production and facility cleaning. The company sustained $386,000 in damages because of the water crisis, according to Gunnoe.

The losses also dried up the company’s advertising budget which could have helped sales for the two items Kroger discontinued, she said.

“The past few years have been devastating,” she said. “West Virginia companies cannot afford any loss of sales, and that includes us.”

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