Improving Business in the Wilmington Region

Cardinal Foods to Invest $26 Million in Burgaw, Becoming One of the Largest Sweet Potato Fry Production Facilities in the World

February 17, 2021 (Wilmington, N.C.) — Cardinal Foods LLC, a Burgaw-based food processor, announced today significant plans to expand its facility and services in Pender County. The company currently provides growers across the eastern US with solutions for fruit and vegetable processing, marketing and distribution.

Company plans call for expanded capacity to better serve blueberry, sweet potato and butternut squash growers from Florida to New Jersey, providing the largest benefit to North Carolina growers. An additional 56,000-sq.-ft. of food grade processing will be added to Cardinal Foods’ existing facility at 201 Progress Drive in Burgaw. The company plans to invest more than $26 million and create about 50 jobs here as part of the project.

“This investment will enable Cardinal to be one of the largest sweet potato fry manufacturers in the world,” said Cardinal Foods President & CEO Corey Barnhill. “Due to a lack of processing capacity regionally, a large majority of fruits and vegetables travel outside of North Carolina — as far away as Idaho and Canada — to be processed. This expansion represents an enormous competitive advantage that will place Cardinal in a great spot for future growth.”

The expansion will house raw material receiving equipment to accommodate the increased capacity of sweet potatoes and butternut squash. Raw material is then steam peeled, diced, sorted and prepared for further processing. An additional key processing step involves a batter and frying application, which will be used to produce numerous SKUs of sweet potato fries and other vegetable products. The fries will be packaged in many different sizes for shipment to retail customers, restaurants and food service operations around the world.

“Burgaw offers a logistical advantage with its proximity to both major interstates I-40 & I-95 as well as the Port of Wilmington,” said Pender County Commission Chairman George Brown. “We welcome Cardinal Foods’ continued investment in Pender County, further capitalizing on the opportunities available to our region on the agribusiness import and export side.”

Town of Burgaw Mayor Pete Cowan echoed his enthusiasm towards the project. “Given the challenges related to the pandemic, to have a project of this magnitude coming to fruition in Burgaw says all the right things about establishing and growing business here,” said Cowan.

Cardinal Foods will receive a state and local economic development incentive package to help facilitate the investment in Pender County. The average salary of these jobs is $38,458, which is above Pender County’s overall average of roughly $33,000. These investments are to be made over a three-year period.

“Cardinal Foods is a home-grown company connecting North Carolina farmers to quality-minded consumers around the world,” said North Carolina Commerce Secretary Machelle Sanders. “The company’s success demonstrates how our state’s productive soils and productive people create a global competitive edge for value-added agribusiness operations.”

Wilmington Business Development (WBD) played a critical role in the support of this project, including but not limited to incentive negotiation. “We are very grateful for our partners at the Town of Burgaw, Pender County and the State of North Carolina for their support of this project,” said Scott Satterfield, CEO of WBD. “Manufacturing — including value-added food processing — is a priority for our region. So, when we see a proven, existing industry ready to expand here on this scale, we are eager to do everything we can to support it.”

The announcement also represents a win for the cold storage sector in Greater Wilmington. The building will be constructed of metal siding with energy-efficient insulated panels, designed for food grade sanitation purposes. Epoxy floors of six-inch concrete will provide flooring and a four-foot epoxy block wall will comprise the perimeter, features that will act as a barrier to food bacteria and allow for easy sanitation. All equipment is stainless steel and will meet FDA food processing specifications. There will be a closed-circuit refrigeration system, offering the most efficient technology across all sectors of refrigeration.

Cardinal Foods’ continued investment fits neatly into WBD’s at-port model advancement initiative and helps further execute the vision Pender County leaders have set for the Pender Industrial Park. That property, which includes parcels known as the Pender Progress Park, is home to a number of niche manufacturers, including American Skins, Wilmington Box, Kiln-Direct and Mojotone.

“Although it didn’t happen overnight, the town’s potential is being realized by quality employers. We’re proud of the continued industrial growth in Burgaw,” said Satterfield. “There is also a significant amount of land surrounding these companies available for further growth opportunities. We are aggressively marketing the Pender Industrial Park, Commerce Park and other favorable locations throughout our two counties as we attract new employers to the region.”

Founded in 1956, Wilmington Business Development oversees business recruitment and industrial retention for the City of Wilmington, New Hanover County and Pender County. A private, non-profit organization, WBD supports members, partners and allies through an array of technical expertise, leadership resources and value-added business services. For additional information, visit