Farmer Direct Foods focused on ‘going back to the way things used to be’

NEW CAMBRIA, KAN. — If, because the saying goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, the acquisition of Farmer Direct Meals (FDF) represents a significant first step by Heirloom Manufacturers in a method centered on premium meals merchandise oriented towards sustainability, mentioned Timothy S. Webster, chief government officer of Overland Park, Kan.-based Heirloom Manufacturers.

In FDF, Heirloom has acquired a flour milling enterprise with roots courting again to 1988 and the creation of a farmer-owned cooperative devoted to selling the cultivation of white wheat in Kansas. Over time FDF has grown largely as a co-packer — a provider to King Arthur Flour of stone-ground complete white wheat flour, stone-ground complete wheat flour milled from arduous crimson winter wheat and stone-ground natural complete wheat flour.

The branded enterprise at FDF had been very restricted, Mr. Webster mentioned in a July interview. The corporate now’s seeking to construct its gross sales and advertising functionality promoting to specialty grocers and artisan bakers on prime of a grower community and core operational capabilities he known as “distinctive and proprietary.”

“We’re constructing a gross sales and advertising infrastructure on prime of a robust grain sourcing and manufacturing enterprise,” he mentioned.

Along with the community of growers who’re events to long-term provide agreements, FDF operates a flour mill with 1,500 cwts of each day milling capability in New Cambria, northeast of Salina, Kan., and a grain elevator 11 miles to the south in Kipp, Kan.

FDF will search to develop by constructing a branded enterprise that originally shall be restricted to sorts of household flour and ultimately might embody merchandise starting from baking mixes and pasta to ready-to eat meals.

“We consider the patron is turning into extra refined,” Mr. Webster mentioned. “Commodity flour is challenged as a result of individuals are conscious of issues like bleaching and the character of hybridized grain. So our focus is on super-premium, highly-differentiated merchandise that meet a selected client want or need.”

Mr. Webster got here to FDF through Bomar Holdings, an funding partnership he has led since 2019. From the beginning, Bomar has sought funding alternatives targeted on sustainability, together with the acquisition of Eco Vessel LLC, a maker of insulated water bottles and meals storage containers. Bomar offered Eco Vessel earlier this yr and has shifted its focus towards the grain-based meals sector. 

“Sustainability as an funding thesis made a whole lot of sense to us — doing nicely whereas doing good,” Mr. Webster mentioned. “And the advantages of revisiting, reinvesting in meals and agriculture — our investor group may be very intrigued about what the longer term holds. We like being concerned in important markets which are foundational. We’ll concentrate on distinctive merchandise that haven’t been capable of get to scale for numerous causes — capital, sophistication, experience — all the explanations entrepreneurial companies wrestle.”

Along with sustainability and traceability, Mr. Webster mentioned Heirloom Manufacturers will search for alternatives to faucet into client curiosity in nostalgia, or “going again to the best way issues was.”

The funding and administration group assembled for Heirloom Manufacturers consists of a lot of people with deep roots within the farming, flour milling and meals business. Buyers embody Plaza Service provider Group run by John Stout, who was an government within the flour milling and very important wheat gluten companies earlier than establishing a non-public fairness agency targeted on the meals sector.

Descendants of H.D. (Joe) Hale, who led ADM Milling Co. for a few years, are also actively concerned in FDF. Nelson Household Farms, led by Doug Nelson and Dana Hale Nelson (Mr. Hale’s daughter), are buyers/advisers and are supplying grain to the enterprise.

The Nelsons’ daughter Hayley Eckert partnered with Mr. Webster within the institution of the enterprise and is vice chairman of technique and enterprise growth/gross sales. In Could, her cousin Keaton Hale joined FDF from Grain Craft, the place he labored on the firm’s flour mill in Pendleton, Ore. A graduate of the Division of Grain Science and Trade at Kansas State College with a level in milling science and administration, Mr. Hale is superintendent of the FDF flour mill in New Cambria.

The seeds of Ms. Eckert’s curiosity in FDF had been sown throughout years she spent with Deloitte in Sydney, Australia. Whereas there, Ms. Eckert gained an appreciation for a farm-to-table method she mentioned was far forward of the motion in america.

“They had been revolutionary in going again to the best way issues was executed,” she mentioned.

Whereas she was away, the Nelson Household Farm in central Kansas started transitioning a few of its acreage to the manufacturing of heritage and historic grains. When she returned in 2020, Ms. Eckert established Metropolis Farmer Meals, a client merchandise enterprise that marketed the grains in addition to flour within the Kansas Metropolis space.

Calling Metropolis Farmer Meals a “massive training in the course of a pandemic,” Ms. Eckert mentioned she and Mr. Webster spent a yr trying into alternatives within the meals sector and “making a thesis for what was Heirloom Manufacturers and the imaginative and prescient now we have trying ahead.”

The exploration led Mr. Webster to method FDF, which had been milling heirloom grains from the Nelson Household Farm. The American White Wheat Producers Affiliation was renamed Farmer Direct Meals in 2003 after putting in the flour mill, however by 2021 Mr. Webster mentioned the group was “fatigued” and had been investing solely restricted sources towards selling its personal branded product. In the end, the group was drawn to a monetary transaction that provided upside if FDF is profitable going ahead.

“Crucial factor is we would like the growers to stay a central, integral a part of this,” Mr. Webster mentioned. “It was win-win that they might put cash of their pocket and keep the chance to promote grain at a premium to the elevator worth.”

FDF now has long-term grower agreements that he known as a “distinctive construction.”

“We now have in-built a profit-sharing mechanism that along with a long-term rising dedication, ties the growers to the success of FDF,” he mentioned. “Dana and Doug (Nelson) are actively working with us, as a result of we envision rising the enterprise considerably, so we are going to want a broader, bigger, extra numerous grower community each as to acres and the varieties of grains we supply as we go down the highway.”

Sustaining and constructing the community of 25 growers at the moment supplying FDF is essential to attaining the corporate’s objectives round sustainability and traceability, Mr. Webster mentioned. Regenerative agriculture is a central a part of sustainability at FDF.

“At FDF they’re means forward of the market when it comes to what they’re doing with regenerative agriculture,” he mentioned. “That could be a operate of getting King Arthur as their main buyer embracing a dedication to regenerative agriculture along with the actual fact there’s a group of enlightened farmers who suppose taking good care of the soil and taking good care of the local weather make good sense.”

The corporate’s regenerative agricultural practices observe strict tips and embody using cowl crops, crop rotation, dry farming, no-till, composting and the introduction of livestock for pure fertilizer.

Equally concerned and maybe extra distinctive is the traceability of the corporate’s flour. FDF has a longstanding protocol across the licensed seed varieties which may be used with fields subjected to monitoring. The wheat that farmers ship shouldn’t be co-mingled. It’s batch milled offering farm-to-flour transparency. Mr. Webster likened it to a winery particular bottle of high-quality wine.

“There’s a lot to the grower community,” he mentioned. “We predict that is the way you differentiate our merchandise in a market the place there may be a whole lot of commodity enterprise. The place the grains all have been comingled by the point they hit the mill.”

Whilst the corporate plans to develop a various product line of grain-based meals long run, FDF’s preliminary lineup of merchandise to be branded underneath the Farmer Direct Meals identify is straightforward. Along with stone-ground complete wheat flour milled from both white wheat or arduous crimson winter wheat the corporate already provided, FDF is introducing complete wheat flour milled from heirloom turkey arduous crimson winter wheat and an all-purpose flour milled on a co-packing association.

“Our preliminary lineup consists of three premium-quality flours that mix our Id-Assured (which is trademarked) increased protein wheats and stone-ground milling to constantly meet the exacting requirements of artisan bakers,” Mr. Webster mentioned. “Moreover, now we have sourced a premium all-purpose patent flour milled to the identical excessive requirements to fulfill the total vary of our prospects’ flour wants.”

The target is to not turn into the nation’s largest flour milling firm, Mr. Webster mentioned.

“This isn’t a scale recreation,” he mentioned. “We aren’t going to be within the commodity flour enterprise. We aren’t going to be the low-cost producer. We’re on the lookout for promising and rising market niches.”

A rye flour is predicted to be launched shortly, and the corporate is increasing an operation milling Kansas-grown teff.

The corporate at the moment is headquartered in Overland Park, Kan., at Serendipity Labs, a co-working/versatile workplace area. Along with Mr. Webster, Ms. Eckert and Mr. Hale, the lean group has grown to incorporate Ben Mantooth as vice chairman of manufacturers and digital advertising and Haley Sestak as gross sales and product specialist. Julie Mayden is vice chairman — grain, sourcing and chief monetary officer.

The group has rebranded and redesigned the FDF product line and is constructing out the advertising method taken by Ms. Eckert’s Metropolis Farmer Meals, which has been folded into FDF.

Because the heirs to the imaginative and prescient of the American White Wheat Producers Affiliation, Mr. Webster and Ms. Eckert describe themselves as believers and each see potential for the wheat class to realize additional traction.

“We predict there may be actually untapped potential, as a result of once we say to prospects on the farmers’ market that this has a pure sweetness, they’re instantly drawn to it,” Mr. Webster mentioned.

Onerous white wheat accounted for 4% of Kansas wheat manufacturing in 2021, up from 3% the earlier a number of years, in accordance with US Division of Agriculture information. At 4% of a 364-million-bu crop, arduous white manufacturing was about 14.6 million bus final yr in Kansas, sufficient wheat to mill about 6 million cwts of flour.

Over time, Mr. Webster hopes the corporate will mill extra than simply stone floor complete wheat flour. The New Cambria website that at the moment homes a milling and packing line has area for including milling capability.

Mr. Hale, the mill’s superintendent, described the present mill — manufactured by Bauermeister — as “old skool,” Ms. Eckert mentioned.

Mr. Webster added, “On the Heirloom Manufacturers degree we proceed to have a look at different acquisitions. As Hayley goes into these bakeries, some proportion of their necessities will be met by our present providing and a few includes a product we’re sourcing elsewhere. We positively may have a turnkey resolution so a lot of the bakeries we go into we are able to maintain the rye, the entire wheat and the patent.”

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