Growing Minnesota’s natural foods industry

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Consumers are concerned about what they’re eating and where it comes from. In the case of processed foods, more people today are reading the ingredients list. Current studies show that shoppers are purchasing natural foods at significantly increasing rates.

Minnesota is a known innovator in food production. As local companies begin to take advantage of the market demand for natural foods, Great River Energy is exploring this opportunity and the ways it might assist its member-owner cooperatives in meeting the needs of companies in their service territories.

Great River Energy attended California’s Natural Products Expo West earlier this year with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and University of Minnesota “Grow North” team. The expo is one of the largest food trade shows in the world and has a particular emphasis on craft and natural foods production.

Photo of the Minnesota delegation at the Natural Products Expo West event

The Grow North initiative aims to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation in Minnesota’s food industry. The state was well-represented at the expo under a “Minnesota Naturally” theme along with a delegation of businesses, government agencies and economic development organizations from across the state.

Locally grown company, Angie's Artisan Treats, was held up as an incredible success story at the Natural Products Expo. Angie and Dan Bastian started the company in 2001 out of their Mankato garage.

The couple’s original mission to create healthier snack options for their kids coincided with an overall consumer trend: One recent study found that more than 60 percent of consumers are seeking better-for-you snack alternatives.

The Bastians started out selling their popcorn at amateur and high school sporting events. They eventually grew out of the garage and opened a production facility in North Mankato served by the BENCO Electric Cooperative.

A distribution deal with Target stores made the brand they developed, Angie's Boomchickapop, a national household name. After 16 years, the brand was acquired by Conagra Brands, enabling the company to grow and reach new markets.

Great River Energy’s economic development services team is working on a strategy to help more member-owners capitalize on the natural food industry’s growth and replicate this success.

“Since manufacturing-based food production companies require high energy loads, Great River Energy and its member-cooperatives can play an important role in bolstering the success of their development,” said Jeff Borling, Great River Energy’s economic development lead.

Businesses looking to locate in the state or expand in co-op service areas can inquire with Great River Energy about site selection, rebates, financing and technical assistance.

This article is the third in a three-part series that covers Minnesota’s growing food and beverage industry and the role Great River Energy and its member-owner cooperatives play in supporting its expansion.


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