SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- When they started canning tomatoes in 1908, A.J., Fred and Claude Bush likely had no idea the company they were creating would someday be a household name and rule the roost in the canned vegetable market.
From those humble beginnings, when the company operated only during the harvest season and sold in local shops, the company has grown by bushels into an economic powerhouse in tiny, ironically unincorporated Chestnut Hill. With a massive headquarters in Knoxville and a second processing factory in Augusta, Wis., Bush officials believe they're poised to continue their domination of their market for years to come.
According to company spokesman Steve Harrison, Bush Brothers claims 61 percent of the prepared vegetables market in America these days.
''Some of our products are stronger in certain regions,'' Harrison said. ''Pintos and hominy tend to be more popular in the Southeast and Southwest, while the Northeast prefers the kidney beans. That difference is really shrinking as our marketing grows, though.''
Of course, the company has captured the baked bean market, with its famous ''secret family recipe.'' Helping spread the word about the delicious concoction are Bush family members Jay and Drew Bush, who, along with canine actors playing the part of Duke, have been part of the company's most popular advertising campaign ever.
''We sell a lot of beans,'' Harrison says with a laugh. ''They're growing in popularity every day. People really love the taste and beans are very good for you. They're a good alternate protein source and, of course, they're very high in fiber. Plus, they're a very economic food. A can of beans doesn't break the bank.''
All totaled, Bush Brothers & Company's Chestnut Hill plant will turn out 25 million cases of canned vegetables this year. With 12 cans in each case, that's enough vegetables for every man, woman and child in America to have a can to themselves.
Thanks to modern shipping methods and the long-term viability of the amazing bean, Bush Brothers now ships all its beans and vegetables in from farms across the nation. It takes about eight to 10 hours for beans to go from the delivery truck to being grocery store shelf ready, a process they complete with the help of about 360 full-time employees at the East Tennessee campus.
All that work happens in a state-of-art-facility that underwent a complete overhaul in 2004 to the tune of $200 million, equipping it to supply the nation's bean needs into the future. Part of that renovation was the installation of a new methane burner facility, which captures methane produced by the factory and uses it in turn to help run the plant. The gas removed from the plant's wastewater also means the water is cleaner as it's spread over several acres of moors adjoining the plant.
''Our process is very water-intensive, so this is a way we can recycle that water and it's not lost,'' Harrison said. ''We have also been able to fill all our natural gas needs using the methane we take out of the plant, so it's a very environmentally friendly process.''
With so much invested in the continued growth of the company, Harrison said the still-family-owned business is prepared to continue its domination of the canned vegetables market for years to come.
''The Bush family is committed to having the company survive indefinitely,'' he said. ''We have no intention of doing anything different.''