Sunland wins marketing award

Freedom New Mexico: Argen Duncan Sunland Inc. employee Carmen Manquero watches jars being filled with peanut butter at the plant Tuesday. Sunland is New Mexico’s 2008 Agriculture Marketer.

By Argen Duncan: Freedom New Mexico

Working for peanuts has earned a Portales company top honors.

Peanut processor Sunland Inc. is the New Mexico Department of Agriculture’s New Mexico Agriculture Marketer for 2008. The company received the honor earlier this month.

“The importance of it is just the recognition by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture that we’re successful at what we’re trying to do,” said Sunland President and CEO Jimmie Shearer.

Sunland’s goals remain unchanged since area farmers started the company in 1988 — marketing Valencia peanut products, Shearer said. He said that peanut sets Sunland apart from the competition.

The Valencia peanut has a sweeter flavor than other varieties, so manufacturers can make peanut butter from it without adding sugar, the CEO said.

“The selection is based on innovative and creative marketing as well as success in the market place,” NMDA Marketing Director Edward Avalos said in a news release.

Shearer said a machine that fills and seals personal-sized cups of peanut butter should be running at 100 percent capacity by March, less than a year after its installation.

“And we’re always looking for innovative ways to package and present our product to the public,” he said.

Sunland is the nation’s largest provider of both Valencia-peanut and organic peanut butter, Shearer said. It’s also the only peanut butter plant in the state.

Shearer said the company’s customer base consists of many major national food stores. He believes Sunland’s most popular product is probably old-fashioned peanut butter.

When the company began, it handled in-shell peanuts, Shearer said.

Twenty years later, Sunland employees about 150 people and has two lines of peanut butter. It processes 6,000 pounds of peanuts an hour, 24 hours a day, six days a week.