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Chattanooga Made: Inside Southern Champion Tray

Since its inception in 1927, Southern Champion Tray has risen to prominence as a leading producer of eco-friendly food trays and specialty boxes, proudly made in Chattanooga.

With a workforce exceeding 920 members, the company crafts and dispatches an array of boxes, trays, clamshells, and bowls designed to hold a wide variety of delicious foods—from crispy chicken tenders to irresistible funnel cakes. With a core commitment to sustainability, the company uses Sustainable Forestry Initiative certified paper and wood products, sourced from both recyclable and compostable origins. The company furthers this commitment through best recycling practices and green energy resources, paper waste is processed through papermaking facilities in the Southern United States and clean energy is embraced through solar panels capable of powering 50 homes a year.

Enhancing its eco-friendly initiatives, Southern Champion Tray’s truck fleet – distinguished by its iconic green and white branding – incorporates the Environmental Protection Agency’s Smart-Way Technology, optimizing efficiency while minimizing fuel usage. The company expanded through acquisition of Honeymoon Paper Products in 2020, and continued expansion efforts two years later by acquiring Evergreen Packaging, Inc. in Commerce, California.

Deepening its regional commitment, Southern Champion Tray broke ground on an impressive $60 million factory within Centre South Riverport Industrial Park in 2021.

This industrial park, created by Hamilton County government in the 1980s, stands as a testament to over $180 million in private investments, cultivating nearly 632,500 square feet of manufacturing space.

Among tenants like Metals USA, Hamilton Plastics, Sofix, and East Tech Company, over 300 individuals find employment within the park. Now, Southern Champion Tray joins this cohort of enterprises, as its newly inaugurated 320,000 square foot facility bolsters Hamilton County’s workforce by introducing more than 150 of Tennessee’s best jobs.

Inside this modern facility, towering stacks of paper reach skyward. The factory floor hums with activity as products traverse conveyor belts under the watchful eye of highly trained professionals. Beyond expanding manufacturing capacity, the new site boasts additional amenities, including sophisticated conference rooms, contemporary kitchen appliances, and a balcony showcasing picturesque views of the Tennessee River.

Designed to prioritize talent retention, the facility incorporates an array of amenities dedicated to enhancing employee well-being, such as a fully equipped gym and on-site mental health support services.

Image of breakroom courtesy of Southern Champion Tray.

Marking this significant expansion, Brian Hunt, Southern Champion Tray President, shares insights into the company’s growth, environmental dedication, and the pivotal factors contributing to its enduring success.

Southern Champion Tray invested $60 million creating 300,000 square feet of new space. What led to this expansion?

Southern Champion Tray experienced significant growth over the last decade. Given the global move to sustainable packaging made from paperboard, we are forecasting continued growth in demand from our customers.

This growth – coupled with our capacity constraints – gave us the option to either expand one of our facilities or build a new facility. Unfortunately, existing Chattanooga locations are essentially land locked and have insufficient space to support the capacity needed.

Making an investment in our Centre South facility – and equally important, in our people – was the most logical solution to our problem.

As part of this expansion, Southern Champion Tray is set to bring more than 150 jobs. What jobs are available? Who are you looking to attract?

Brian Hunt, President Southern Champion Tray

We are currently hiring manufacturing and production focused positions.

For us, top candidates usually display mechanical aptitude. But most importantly, we look for people who align with our values and are excited about our culture.

Chattanooga is a place where industry and sustainability meet. How does Southern Champion Tray align with our region’s sustainability efforts? How do you grow while being stewards of our natural environment?

We seek to operate in a sustainable manner. In our modern manufacturing plants, the utilization of solar power – and most importantly, making packaging from the most renewable resources in the world – is top of mind.

North America’s forests are increasing thanks to sustainable forestry initiatives. We grow significantly more trees than are harvested.

Additionally, paper is recycled at a rate of 68% – that’s more than any other product in the country. This saves landfills and prevents additional emissions of greenhouse gases.

From sourcing materials to production, Southern Champion Tray aims to be as environmentally friendly as possible. We are continually working to improve our products’ environmental impact and educate customers on choosing sustainable products. Making our products from renewable fiber-based materials means that they are easily recyclable and most often compostable.

We also believe that giving back generously is an important part of sustaining the community around us. As examples, you will find teams from Southern Champion Tray working on community projects, serving on local boards, working with business leaders to improve local business environment, teaching sustainability in local elementary schools through programs like Trees Into Cartons, Cartons Into Trees (TICCIT) and partnering with charities such as United Way.

Tell us about Centre South Industrial Park. Why this location? What has your experience been since breaking ground inside this industrial park?

The property at Centre South provides us with many advantages including being close to our distribution center located on Amnicola Highway and our headquarters off Manufacturers Road.

While we have developed approximately 40% of the entire acreage that we purchased, the additional property will also support future planned expansions.

Former Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger and Steve Hiatt, Chattanooga Chamber’s Existing Business Director, were instrumental in making this project feasible while assisting us in keeping jobs within our Chattanooga community.

After 95 years, how do you balance growth and innovation with staying true to your products/customer base?

As a third generation, family-owned company, our reputation is built through clear vision, constant innovation and unwavering commitment to excellence and integrity.

Our mission is foundational: To serve customers with great packaging and distinctive service in ways that value people and glorify God.

The quality expected from Southern Champion Tray goes far beyond the value of our products. We strive to ensure every customer is taken care of in every way, before and after the sale.

This is most recently seen with the launch of our new long-term strategy to “make every interaction effortless for the customer.”

As the future unfolds, you can expect to see Southern Champion Tray improve the customer experience and celebrate the successes that our teams achieve.

The future is bright.


Learn more about Southern Champion Tray, here. See why more manufacturers choose Chattanooga, at GreaterChatt.com.

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