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Bush Brothers Expands its Legacy with New Products and a Focus on Sustainability

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Knowing that consumers support companies that follow sustainable practices, the family-owned food processor has implemented several green best practices in its operations and product packaging.

For Bush Brothers & Co., business is about more than just selling baked beans. When consumers open its cans to prepare and eat its products, “We want it to be a good experience,” President and CEO Al Williams declares. “Our employees feel the same way.”

The environment is another high priority for the Knoxville, Tenn.-based company. Knowing that consumers support companies that follow sustainable practices, the family-owned food processor has implemented several green best practices in its operations and product packaging.

One of those practices is visible on grocers’ shelves, because  Bush Brothers’ beans are sold in cans that are partially made from recycled steel. “It’s the safest food container in the world,” Williams says. “You can lock that freshness in and you don’t have to put any preservatives in it.”

Bush Brothers also has invested $60 million in a water-reuse facility in Chestnut Hill, Tenn. At the location, the company soaks its beans in spring water, which is then purified and put back into the water table of its communities.

Furthermore, the business captures natural gas created from bean waste and diverts it to its boilers as fuel. “There are a lot of sustainability aspects [around] the bean,” Williams says.

Legacy of Pride

Bush Brothers has a more than 110-year legacy in foods and employs many associates whose parents and grandparents previously worked for the firm. This has instilled a sense of pride in its staff about their work, Williams says.

“They’re going to make sure we put the best beans in there and mix the sauce, label and package it in a way that makes you proud of it,” he explains. “There’s a lot of care that goes into [our beans].” Founder A.J. Bush started Bush Brothers in 1908 as a tomato cannery. But over time, the company moved into canned fruits and vegetables, and, in 1969, Condon Bush co-created its baked beans product with employees at its Augusta, Wis., facility.

Using a secret family recipe, Bush sought to create beans that tasted “like your mother’s or grandmother’s products,” Williams explains, noting that the company has a 90 percent share of the U.S. baked beans market today.

A Great Source

One of the reasons that baked beans are such a lucrative business for Bush Brothers is that it is a completely natural, healthy product. “Beans are a great source of protein,” Williams states.

“You have to give a pig or cow more protein than you get out,” he continues, adding that far less water is required to get more protein from a bean. He adds, “There’s also no cholesterol or fat.”

Beans are high in fiber and can reduce consumers’ chances of contracting diabetes or colon cancer. “It’s just a great natural product,” he says, adding that Bush Brothers offers multiple lines, including organic products.

This has appealed to customers who want healthier options for their meals, but do not want to forgo flavor. “They’ve got a great taste and are extremely healthy,” he says. 

“All you have to do is open up a can, heat them and eat them like a nice, hand-held snack,” he says. “It’s a nice option for the consumer.”

New Additions

After all its success, Bush Brothers is not resting on its laurels. Instead, the company continues to stay relevant by introducing new products, including its line of Savory beans. Williams explains that this line was developed to meet the needs of consumers who wanted more savory flavors.

With medical conditions such as diabetes, “You have people that don’t want sweet beans,” he says, adding that its Savory lines include Black Bean Fiesta, Cuban Bean and Southwestern Style Pinto Bean products. “Those are all flavors that aren’t sweet.”

Instead, Williams says, consumers will want to eat these products as a side dish with items such as chicken or mix them into a rice bowl. 

These can act as a nice complement to families who want to add vegetables to their meals.

Bush Brothers recently introduced a new line of bean chips and dips that come in multiple flavors, including chili. Although the company does not classify them as health foods, “They’re healthier for your more health-aware consumer,” he asserts.

The products, he notes, provide more protein than potato or corn chips. “We’re just starting to produce those and they’re in the marketplace now,” Williams adds.

Opportunities Ahead

Williams sees a strong future ahead for Bush Brothers. “I’m very bullish on Bush,” he says, explaining that he wants to increase the occurrence of baked beans at the dinner table, including when they are served on holidays.

For example, “Why not have baked beans at Thanksgiving or at Christmas?” Williams suggests. “A lot of times people eat baked beans at family gatherings when there are multiple side dishes.”

In addition, Williams notes, consumers will often turn to chili as a nice warm meal during the frigid winter months. “There’s a lot of opportunity, not just with new products, but taking our existing products and moving into new occasions,” he states.