Processor of the Month: Greg Ladnier of Sea Pearl Seafood Company

Greg is the owner of Sea Pearl Seafood Company in Bayou La Batre.

Name: Greg Ladnier

Name of Business: Sea Pearl Seafood Company

Business Address: 14120 West Belt Street, Bayou La Batre, AL 36509

Business Phone Number: 251-824-2129

Alabama Gulf Seafood that your business processes: Shrimp

For this month’s Processor of the Month feature, we wanted to share some of the highlights from Wild American Shrimp’s feature on Greg Ladnier and Sea Pearl Seafood Company. We decided to throw in a few questions of our own at the end too.

On the history of the business

The Ladnier family of Sea Pearl in Bayou La Batre, Alabama can trace its roots back to the 1700’s when French settlers came to the central Gulf Coast. In fact, the city of Pass Christian, Mississippi was named after family ancestor Christian Ladiner (the spellings evolved over the years), and the family has been connected to the Gulf of Mexico and its bounty ever since.

Sea Pearl is a family business owned by Greg and Jan Ladnier, who work alongside their grown children Shawn and Megan and a team averaging 60 loyal employees year-round. Greg’s love for the business started in the early 1960’s at age 10, working alongside his uncle on a little bay boat named the I’m Alone.

“It was like a little 30-foot boat that had a little small Case diesel in it,” Greg says.

The family once again established its place in the seafood business when Greg’s father, after having worked on shrimp boats for years, started Sea Pearl as an oyster business. By the 1970s, Sea Pearl had evolved into handling shrimp — unloading them from the boats and sending them to canning plants. When freezing equipment became more readily available, the business grew from there.

On the quality of the product

Today, the company is known for setting the standard for quality Gulf shrimp processing. Since their inception, they have made themselves open to third party inspection of their processes. They were one of the first in the country (plant number 121) to open themselves up for the U.S. Department of Commerce voluntary inspection program. They are the only Gulf shrimp processor that is both HACCP (Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points) and QMP (Quality Management Program) certified in the U.S. Department of Commerce (USDC), NOAA Seafood Inspection Program. What does that mean? It means that Sea Pearl has achieved the pinnacle of quality management designations by those entities responsible for inspecting all seafood plants in the United States. They volunteer the plant for open USDC inspections on a regular basis.

“Our commercial customers have come to realize and appreciate the quality shrimp that result from following these stringent quality guidelines. They also know that they are going to get exactly what we tell them they are getting. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”

On Gulf seafood traceability

Sea Pearl is proud to sell only wild-caught Gulf shrimp, and in order to provide assurance to its customers about where their shrimp are harvested and processed, Sea Pearl has been a member of the Gulf Seafood Trace program for several years.

On the challenges of the business

There was the time when imports from China caused a dramatic $2.00 per pound drop in wholesale prices in the early 80’s which Greg characterizes as a “game changer” for the industry henceforth. Then, there was biggest challenge yet in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina engulfed the family-owned business with 12 feet of water.

“There were a lot of people who said Sea Pearl would never come back after that,” says Jan Ladnier, Greg’s wife and secretary/treasurer of Sea Pearl. “Greg said that not only would we come back, we would come back better than ever.”

Greg kept his word, and within seven weeks the factory was back up and running at full speed.

On keeping it in the family

Greg and Jan’s son, Shawn Ladnier, a highly-skilled BMW auto mechanic, was called upon to use his meticulous skills to help fine tune and learn all of the newly installed processes and equipment. He not only learned the equipment inside and out, but was able to teach the employees how to operate it effectively. Shawn decided to stay permanently and is now IQF plant manager. Their daughter, Megan, a Registered Nurse at a local hospital who was working a very demanding schedule, was also drawn back to the family business. She still works part-time at the hospital, but now also plays an integral role in the administrative side of Sea Pearl. The Ladniers believe that in order to be successful in the shrimp industry, one has to know the business inside and out by working in all positions. Megan and Shawn have done that.

On the nature of multitasking

None of the employees have set roles at Sea Pearl. Everyone pitches in to get the job done no matter how messy and unpredictable it might be. In fact, Greg has observed over the years something that would explain, in a world of consolidation and big companies buying up smaller companies, why so many shrimp businesses remain family businesses that have been around for years.

“Big companies have tried it and have failed. The shrimp industry is not easy to fit into a proper business model. It doesn’t follow the rules. There are so many things to know that can change numerous times during any given day,” says Greg.

On the Alabama seafood industry

One thing that people don’t realize is just how much Gulf seafood we process. Alabama processes many times more seafood than it produces.

On the most unusual thing to ever happen on the job

Every now and then, I get a day off.

On the Ladnier family’s favorite seafood dish

Shrimp burgers!