Building a Snack Stick Empire

( Jennifer Shike, Farm Journal's PORK )

(This is the second part of a three-part series on Thrushwood Farms)

As Doug Hankes traveled around the country with the University of Illinois livestock and meats judging teams, he became a connoisseur of “gas station” snacks and quickly determined Thrushwood Farms could make snack sticks better.  

Doug’s desire to make tastier snack sticks eventually led him to join his family's business, Thrushwood Farms. 

“The first time I approached my parents about coming back, they said no,” Doug says. “They wanted me to go somewhere else. I talked them into letting me come back for one year. I knew if I wanted to stay, I would need to develop a business plan.”

Nine months later, Doug presented his plan to grow the company through the creation of a better snack stick. His parents agreed.

“There’s a lot of gamble and risk when everything you own is tied up with your business,” his father, Jim Hankes says. “But if you want to continue to grow, you have to make decisions. Hopefully you make the correct ones and can go from there. Fortunately, people wanted a protein-source product and we had a plan to provide them with one.”

Their gamble paid off. In 2004, Thrushwood Farms had 11 employees, including Jim, his wife, Kae, and Doug. Today they have 47 employees, with most of this labor growth occurring in the past few years to accommodate the development of their ready-to-eat meat products.

Doug says he’s proud their business has added jobs for their community and west central Illinois. 

“When you go into a grocery store, there’s a good chance if you visit their meat snack set, you can find four or five different products created by our employees here in Galesburg,” Doug says. 

Not long after he returned to the family business as vice president of operations and quality control, his brother Jeff came back with an agricultural education degree to manage the retail store. Doug’s wife, Lindsey, joined the team a few years ago with her MBA in marketing to oversee human resources and marketing efforts. 

“We have a very educated crew for such a small production facility,” Jim says. “We have since hired several employees with advanced degrees to help address the wide variety of needs of our growing business. There is definitely a science to what we do, and the education of our team is an asset when we are meeting with potential co-packers.”

Read the full story:
Thrushwood Farms: The People Behind the Pork