“Resourcefulness drives innovation. My grandfather threw away nothing.”
Since the late 1700s, the Paulks have sowed their souls into South Georgia. Today, sixth generation farmer Chris Paulk is carrying his family legacy forward as chief innovator, driving vertical integration and new product development for the mighty muscadine.
In the early 2000s, a fortuitous Food Network feature officially put this Wray icon on the map. The feature popularized Paulk Vineyard’s hand-made, muscadine grape seed capsules, in turn attracting a slew of new customers. That’s when Paulk, a Georgia Tech engineer, received a call from his grandfather asking for help. “There is no office for you, but the chicken house is open.” Embellished with a window a/c unit and a phone line, Paulk returned to the homestead and Muscadine Products Corporation (MPC) opened for business.
Faced with growing global competition in the 1960s, the farm pivoted from traditional row crops to muscadines, “a product that would grow well with what Mother Nature had given us,” Paulk explains. “Resourcefulness drives innovation. My grandfather threw away nothing.” That’s how the idea of processing the muscadine juice, seeds and skins took root. “What is the market looking for? How can every part of the fruit be used?” Agriculture researchers at the University of Georgia (UGA) worked with the Paulks to confirm the muscadine’s high levels of total antioxidants, polyphenols and ellagic acid and their value for cardiovascular, metabolic, immune and anti-aging health.
Today, MPC produces phytochemically-rich liquid and dry ingredients, extracts, and dietary supplements for manufacturers in the cosmetics, food, dietary supplement, and botanical industries. And that early relationship with UGA? Well let’s say it has been “fruitful”. It was UGA pharmacy researchers who connected MPC with a San Francisco-based company looking for natural health supplements. Today, that company is MPC’s biggest customer.
Paulk would like to see more investment in the value-added processing space and in marketing local processing and distribution facilities. “Imagine the potential for value-added, innovative processing and distribution in Georgia. Many of our west coast clients buy here, ship across country, and then back to the east coast for distribution. Why can’t we do all of that here?” Connectivity is also critical, especially as MPC’s customer base expands globally.
The vineyards have spread from 5 acres to 600, and the hand juice press Paulk’s grandfather used has given way to an Italian-made press that processes eight tons of grapes per hour. “The heart of innovation is the quest for better ways to help our companies, our communities and our consumers.” With a nod to future generations, Paulk shares, “I hope our kids will be involved with the business when they are old enough.” If the 7th generation chooses to carry on the family tradition, a corner office with a view awaits…in the chicken house.