By Clint Confehr
BORDEAUX, TN — Perseverance and prayers are a big part of what put Smokin’ Joe’s fish batter on store shelves in one of America’s largest retail food companies.
Nevertheless, Joe “Smokin’ Joe” Bond of Kings Lane is clear on another point as he’s introducing new products. “The Kroger family has been good to me,” says Joe, steadfast in his belief that he’s got the better fish batter.
“A hush puppy and meat seasoning are what I’m coming out with next,” he says.
Joe’s story of family, fellowship and faith dovetails with business and state interests and procedures that are a roadmap to success for producers who want to sell their products from Kroger shelves. Follow the vendor process and “fill out a lot of paperwork,” says Melissa Eads, spokeswoman for Kroger’s Tennessee territory. “It’s not easy.”
UPC bar code standards must be followed and the Pick Tennessee Products program helps. It “offers partial subsidies to eligible businesses that wish to take part in the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association’s annual convention,” state Agriculture Department Assistant Commissioner Corinne Gould says.
Joe’s going to TGCSA’s convention June 6-7 in Chattanooga where he’ll be cooking fish and hush puppies for grocery and convenience store decision makers in Tennessee and some neighboring states. Recently, he cooked for early voters at the poll near Kroger’s store on Clarksville Pike.
As a Pick Tennessee Products member, Smokin’ Joe’s complies with Agriculture Department permitting requirements for production and packing. That’s accomplished with The Doug Jeffords Co. of Mount Pleasant.
But what prompted Joe Bond of Bordeaux to sell a product from a family recipe on shelves of, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the largest operator of traditional grocery stores in the United States and the second largest food retailer in the U.S. after Wal-Mart?
He listened to a customer of the restaurant he ran for 25 years. “She told me, ‘I’m getting old and can hardly see,’ but she said ‘You got to find a way to get this product in stores. I know you can do it, and I’m going to pray for you to do it.’
“She moved to Mansfield, Ohio with her daughter and when she came back she asked me, ‘Where are you on that?’ I said ‘I’m working on it.’ So, we did a presentation up in Louisville, Ky., to Kroger, and everybody loved the product. A new guy was coming in over dry products, and I guess when a new person comes in, you got a whole lot of people under you. And 10 years passed by and I called back to check and … got a hold of the same young man. He told me, ‘I apologize. I just flat-out forgot. What can I do for you?’ I said ‘I’m still trying to get this product in Kroger,’ and, uh, it happened. It’s been in there about nine years.”
There’s more to the story — Joe’s childhood in his grandfather’s farm field, the family store, and food demonstrations — but Smokin’ Joe’s is available at Kroger’s in Huntsville, Atlanta and other big cities, their suburbs and nearby towns.
“We’re coming out with some more product. We got a hush puppy, make you tongue slap your brain,” Joe says. “We got a meat rub that we’re coming out with, too. All purpose seasoning.”
Now, Joe Bond is looking beyond the business he built on fish batter. He has other talents. He’s a brick mason and he likes to fish, so at age 64, Smokin’ Joe is looking around. What could be next?