The story of Mother Murphy’s evolution from an experimental venture in the back room of a drug store to a global company that has become a leader in its category is the story of how a doctor and an insurance salesman turned the American dream into a reality.
Our story begins with Dr. Richard Stelling, a Greensboro physician, who as part of his practice, examined customers for insurance giant Jefferson Standard Life. One of the agents, Kermit L. Murphy Sr., saw Dr. Stelling regularly and was fascinated when he learned that the physician had worked his way through the University of Georgia making and selling food flavorings. Murphy’s interest grew as the doctor told him how, after he’d set up practice in Greensboro during the 1920s, he’d continued experimenting with flavors in the basement laboratory of his home, just as many "dot-com" entrepreneurs would set up shop in their garages in a future generation.
The two of them first became fast friends and then business partners, with Murphy selling the flavorings to local bakeries. In 1946, they decided to rent a room in the back of a drug store in the then outlying Pomona area of Greensboro. With a small mixer and big dreams, the two of them spent nights and weekends concocting new formulas and perfecting existing formulations. By August of 1947, Murphy convinced 14 investors to help him set up Southern Laboratories. Upon Dr. Stelling’s departure, Murphy recruited a veteran chemist from a competitor in New York.
Over the years, Mother Murphy's customer base expanded from bakeries to the military, crafting fruit flavored bases used to make the beverages that proved to be so popular with soldiers, sailors, and marines. In 1948 in its new location, the company secured $56,000 worth of business. In the early 1950s, the company began work on creating a vanilla product that could be used by commercial bakers. In 1954, the firm introduced its first vanilla flavoring to the market—a category that would grow to become a main focus of the business.
The following year, 1955, Southern Laboratories incorporated and changed its name to Mother Murphy’s Laboratories, Inc. Mother Murphy’s began to expand fast and in 1958 Kermit’s brother L.M. “Pete” Murphy joined the company. Within seven years, the company outgrew its Arnold Street plant and the brothers designed a new building on South Elm Street. Since 1965, this location has served as Mother Murphy’s main production facility, and corporate headquarters and it continues to welcome our guests and clients today.
In the 1960s, Mother Murphy’s expanded into the market of sweet flavorings and began producing an array of products for the food and beverage industries. In the 1970s, the company began offering flavorings for the dairy industry. During this decade the company also focused on the demand for specific drink and ice cream flavorings that were exciting a new generation of Americans.
By the early 1990s, Mother Murphy’s had branched into most sectors of the flavorings market. And with the growth of the bakery business, the company added a Dallas baking facility in 1994. Dean Kasper, an expert in commercial baking, has been managing this part of the company for 15 years. To stay at the forefront of flavor technology, Mother Murphy’s completely updated the laboratory facilities in 2003 with an expansion of its labs to more than 3,300 square feet. In 2011, Mother Murphy's renovated and opened a 93,00 square foot Distribution Center located less than a mile from its corporate headquarters.
"Throughout our development and expansion, Mother Murphy’s is at heart a family business that spans three generations," says current President David Murphy, the son of founder Kermit Murphy. "We have seen an orderly succession of leadership throughout six decades. In 1982, Mother Murphy’s experienced its first changing of the guard as Kermit Murphy stepped down and Bob Murphy assumed the position of corporation president. Then, Kit Murphy took the reins from Bob. And Jim Murphy followed Kit.
"I took over for Jim in 1994," David Murphy says. "The third generation of the family handles our marketing and sales operation. As younger family members learn the business from the previous generation, they are also exploring new ideas in technology and flavoring concepts from around the world. Our business is truly multigenerational, state of the art, and global".
Murphy adds, "What started with inspiration and hard work continues to grow and thrive. Although we have moved out of the small backroom of a drug store, we still offer that same personalized quality in flavor products - and now we offer an entire portfolio of exciting possibilities. Our doors are always open and we welcome customers and clients from around the world to visit us at our headquarters anytime."