96 Years in the Making: Southern Champion Tray’s Mission to Serve
Southern Champion Tray (SCT) began in 1927 as a proud member of the Chattanooga community when Milt Zeiser moved to Tennessee and began manufacturing paperboard food trays.
As SCT has grown over the past 96 years, with manufacturing now located in three different states and team members numbering close to 1,000 hardworking individuals, one thing has remained true: SCT chooses to value people first, whether employees, customers, or suppliers. This belief is clearly rooted in its Mission Statement, “We exist to serve customers with great packaging and distinctive service in ways that value people and glorify God.”
This mission became all the more real when Milt’s son, Chuck Zeiser, joined SCT full time in 1958. Chuck knew the importance of each job at SCT. (He started at SCT as a young man sweeping up under the machines and cleaning the only bathroom.) Chuck also firmly believed in the God-given value of people and knew he wanted to run the business and treat his staff in a way that honored God. From that decision came the commitment to steward SCT according to Biblical values.
In 1969, this determination was tested when the decision to change SCT’s path to market initially resulted in the loss of 50 percent of its revenue. The entire team pulled together, and rather than lay anyone off, it was decided to reduce manufacturing to four days a week, establish the first SCT sales team, and launch what would become the SCT trucking fleet. Thankfully through everyone’s perseverance, the lost business was regained within two years without any loss of jobs.
As SCT continued to grow, the third generation of Zeisers, John and Bruce, joined the team full-time in the early 1980s. They, too, knew that SCT was not just a paperboard manufacturer but a business they regarded as a stewardship rather than an investment that belonged to their family. They have, therefore, attempted to model the servant leadership necessary for their team members to flourish in a growing, complex company. By the 1990s John and Bruce had officially taken the leadership reins, and SCT was serving customers in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Canada.
A test of SCT’s commitment to its people and customers came during the Covid-19 pandemic. In the first weeks, many of the established weekly orders stopped. SCT quickly pivoted a portion of production to help the medical community by manufacturing face shields, yet still had to work diligently to find ways to keep people working with a pandemic that had no end in sight. To solve this dilemma, SCT redirected many of its production team members to other areas of work. People were painting, organizing stock rooms, performing deep maintenance on machines, etc. Six weeks later, restaurants were ramping up takeout sales, and demand for packaging went through the roof, well beyond pre-pandemic levels. Since then, SCT has stayed busy supplying the U.S. and 20 additional countries with some of your favorite paperboard boxes for items like donuts, cakes, pies, hot dogs, and pizza.
While there have been distinct challenges over the past 96 years, many wonderful things have taken place for the growth of the company and the people who choose to work there. In fact, SCT had a recent leadership change with Brian Hunt’s promotion to President as the first non-family member to lead the company. SCT also purchased a West Coast competitor, Evergreen Packaging, and construction was completed on a new 320,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility at Centre South. This new facility opened at the end of January and will provide an additional 120 jobs in Chattanooga.
As SCT celebrates 96 years, there is only excitement for the growth and opportunities ahead, and through it all, SCT’s mission, “...to serve customers with great packaging and distinctive service in ways that value people and glorify God,” will continue to remain at the forefront.
Southern Champion Tray is a third-generation, family-owned company that serves customers in the bakery, food service, institutional, and retail packaging markets, and distributes products throughout North America including: Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean. To learn more, visit www.sctray.com.
Lisanne Boling is a Senior Marketing Specialist at Southern Champion Tray, where she is fortunate to share in serving her fellow co-workers.