The roots of Heartland Catfish Company can be traced to the mid-1970’s when William Tackett, his son Jim Tackett, and his son-in-law Joe Walker, decided to begin raising catfish on 80 acres in the western part of Leflore County, near Schlater, Mississippi. From that 80 acres grew Tackett Fish Farms, the largest farm-raised catfish operation in the United States. Throughout the eighties and mid-nineties, Tackett Fish Farm sold its live catfish to various cooperative processing plants in the area, but the idea of building their own processing plant was constantly discussed among the three owners.
Building A Legacy
In 1995, the time finally seemed right, and William, Jim and Joe decided to take the risk and build their own plant to process their fish. They selected Danny Walker, then President of Tackett Fish Farms, as Chief Executive Officer. For processing expertise, they hired Tim Millwood as Vice President of Operations. Tim brought over fifteen years of catfish processing experience and was instrumental in establishing the standards Heartland Catfish Company works under still today. To market the final product, Dan Sawin, a former food service sales manager for Delta Pride, was chosen to serve as Vice President of Sales and Marketing.
Entering an industry where several other companies were already well established in the market place required Heartland Catfish Company to find a way to distinguish itself from the competition. In order to stand out in the market, Heartland Catfish Company was determined to produce the freshest, highest-quality catfish products and provide it to our customers with the best service at the best value.
Instead of utilizing current industry procedures and standards for processing catfish, the management team decided to design a state-of-the-art facility that merged the best of the industry standards for filleting with the latest technology for grading of products and monitoring the process flow. Working with various equipment suppliers, Heartland Catfish utilized standards and procedures from other seafood industries and even the poultry industry to build a plant unlike any other catfish plant at the time.
In order to have the safest and highest quality product, the plant was designed with two key elements in mind: temperature control and sanitation. In every area of the plant, temperatures are monitored and controlled by computer software capable of warning staff members and management if temperatures reach critical levels that are outside our established standards. The processing floor air, the chilled water, the spiral freezer, the holding freezer temperature and even the loading dock air temperature are all monitored by computers to ensure that our products stay at the temperature we want them to be. Also, a direct-fired water heater was installed to provide our sanitation crews with on-demand water at 140°F for all cleanup and sanitation operations. This constant supply of high temperature water allows our crews to ensure the best sanitized processing environment every day.
Computerized grading and weighing is critical to Heartland Catfish Company’s operating efficiently in all areas of the processing flow. Live fish are graded individually and each fish is sent to the line that will most efficiently use that fish. Fillets are individually weighed and graded based on weight to ensure that our products meet the size specifications we have set for them. Product is packed on computerized scales to allow us to provide the correct amount of fish in each box without a lot of hand-work and guessing. This provides the customers with consistent, accurate weights of product in filling their orders.
Heartland Catfish Company also operates its own fleet of late-model Kenworth Tractors and refrigerated trailers. This allows us to deliver our products on our trucks to our customers on schedules that meet their needs and expectations. We are not left to rely on outside trucking companies that service a large number of clients. Our fleet consists of 24 tractors and 32 refrigerated trailers and travels all across the country every week.
In 1996, Heartland Catfish Company opened a 35,000 square-foot processing plant that employed 60 people and could process 240,000 lbs. of live fish per week. Over the next 18 years, the original plant has been expanded to a total of 135,000 square feet. The processing facilities have also continuously been updated to maintain a state-of-the-art processing facility with up to date technology in every aspect of the process. Currently, we employ over 400 employees, have a processing capacity of 1,500,000 lbs. of live fish per week, and can Individually Quick Freeze (IQF) our products at a rate of 19,000 lbs. per hour. Additionally, Heartland Catfish Company acquired the assets of Southern Pride Catfish in Greensboro, Alabama, in 2008, and currently utilizes that facility as a retail packing operation and a cold storage facility.