South Georgia Pecan is Keeping Pace with Global Demand


Global Sales: South Georgia Pecan located in Valdosta is a leading U.S. sheller and processor.

The name is a tough nut to crack. Depending on where you live or regional influence, the pronunciation of Georgia’s official state nut may be open for debate. According to a National Pecan Shellers Association poll, 45% of Southerners and 70% of people living in the Northeast are on team “pee-can,” while the rest of Americans side with “puh-kahn.”

It doesn’t matter how you pronounce the buttery, flavorful nut because pecans are big business in Georgia, accounting for about one-third of U.S. pecan production.

Currently ranked the No. 1 state for pecan production, Georgia’s average pecan harvest is about 88 million pounds—enough to make 176 million pecan pies.

No longer just an end-of-the-year holiday dessert, improvements in storage life, including temperature and humidity control, have increased the popularity and availability of pecans throughout the year.

Consumers are also grasping the significant health benefits of pecans. According to the American Heart Association, pecans are designated as heart-healthy. A single ounce (about 19 halves) is loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Pecan production has steadily increased in the U.S., rising from 2.2 million pounds in 1920 to current yields of 250 to 300 million pounds a year.

Worldwide Popularity 

The only tree nut native to North America, pecan production is limited to 15 states and continues to gain international popularity.

According to the Pecan Report, from September 2020 to April 2021, U.S. exporters shipped 86,939,574 pounds of pecans worldwide, representing an increase of 13,336,633 pounds or 15.34% from the previous year.

While worldwide consumer demands were already soaring, during 2020, the sale of pecans and other nuts continued to escalate.

“I can’t tell you why, but people were eating considerably more nuts during the pandemic,” says Jeff Worn, CEO and president of South Georgia Pecan. “The biggest issue was keeping our employees working, and being responsible to keep them safe, while at the same time being able to fill orders. We didn’t close, and employees were working more hours than they traditionally did at that time of the year.”

A typical pecan harvest only lasts a few months; however, South Georgia Pecan processing facilities are operational all year. “Normally, October and November are our busiest months,” Worn says. “When COVID hit in quarter one and quarter two, we saw huge spikes and the type of volume we have in the fall.”

The COVID pandemic and its social distance requirements, plus continuing labor shortages, have affirmed South Georgia Pecan’s commitment to continue automating more of its production processes.

Valdosta, Lowndes County: Jeff Worn, CEO and president of South Georgia Pecan.

Efficiency Focused

Starting as a small shelling plant in 1913, South Georgia Pecan’s main facility and corporate office is located in Valdosta, Lowndes County, with a second plant in El Paso, Texas. Each year, the company manufactures about 100 million pounds of pecans, almonds, and walnuts between its two locations.

Before the 1920s, pecans were “hand-shelled” by consumers or in small processing plants. Today, large shelling facilities, like South Georgia Pecan, include millions of dollars worth of equipment to handle sizing, cracking, separating edible meat from shells, grading the meat, washing, drying, and packaging.

“We are setting our plants up to run substantially more capacity to meet current and future demands,” says Worn, emphasizing it’s more than robotics and upgraded technology.

The company’s shift also includes changes in workforce dynamics. “Without a strong corporate culture, people aren’t going to want to work here,” says Worn, a 2008 graduate of Valdosta State University. “What motivates people to work? We’re trying to think outside the box to create a work environment, a culture that is healthy and one that will optimize continuous improvements.”

South Georgia Pecan, a leading U.S. sheller and processor, sells an assortment of pecans in whole, halves, pieces, chocolate amaretto, roasted salted, and cinnamon spice pecans, to name a few. While pecans are its biggest sellers, the company also processes and distributes walnuts, almonds, and pistachios.

While the processing and distribution of pecans and other nuts remain the company’s top priority, in 2018, South Georgia Pecan launched Purely Pecans, a line of natural products including an assortment of pecan butter and snacks.



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