By Heidi Sampson Special to The Free Press
The Mankato Free Press
---- — Back in 1987, Jeff Thom, CEO of All American Foods, started out with only a couple of employees in a rented warehouse that had formerly been the old Kayot pontoon building. Over the next 10 years, Thom’s company went from renting one plant to constructing and operating three manufacturing facilities across their 14 acre Mankato campus. In 2000, the company acquired its fourth production facility in Waseca.
Today, the company consists of a combined 250,000 square feet between both their Mankato and Waseca sites, as well as an increase in employment to approximately 50.
Even with 27 years of growth, President Rod Mitchell believes the challenge of All American Foods lies in describing to the general public, what it is they do.
“Nobody really knows what it is we do here because you can’t go to a store and pull a product off of the shelf with our name on it,” Mitchell said. “We are a food ingredient manufacturer. So if you go and look at the ingredients within different foods, I’d be willing to bet you’ve probably eaten one of our products every single day without even knowing it.”
All American Foods has been in the business of customized development, processing and packaging of dried, co-dried, and dry blended ingredients. The company can mix, chop, liquid spray, plate colors, flavors, oils and pastes into an application specifically designed to their client’s dairy needs.
“We build food ingredients including milk products strictly for the application in which they are used,” said Chad Anderson, director of sales for All American Foods.
“For instance, standard dairy commodity ingredients offer a one size fits all approach. Our Pro Mix ingredient line only consists of components that offer functional and nutritional value to our customers. Often when food manufacturers purchase standard commodities, they are typically buying and paying for components that offer no value. Our customers simply buy what brings them value and that is how our Pro Mix ingredient line has become so beneficial to our customers.”
The leading areas All American Food’s specializes in is, confectionary, bakery, salad dressings, dips, beverages, soups, sauces, processed potatoes, cheese powders, flavor enhanced cream powders, such as sour cream and yogurt powders, high fat powders, dairy powders, and dried nonfat buttermilk and whole milk substitutes. All American’s Pro Mix line offers those markets ingredients that are not over-engineered which maximizes the users functionality and nutritional goals while also lowering their cost per pound.
“Let’s say your company is using milk,” Mitchell said, “we will give you exactly the amount of protein you need, the exact amount of fat you may want in your finished product and so forth. We can even reduce fats. Our mixtures are very specific to the application of the client.”
Production Line to Lab Testing
All American Foods production line used to have nine people assist with the creation or mixing and bagging of an ingredient or application. At that time, they could produce between 60,000 and 80,000 pounds of shippable material in one shift. Since their entire system went to automation, today their production runs on four people and produces 200,000 pounds in a single shift, more than doubling their daily output. All America Foods also offers a broad range of packaging sizes from 50 pound bags up to 2,000 pound super totes.
Once an application is created and bagged, a sample is taken to the lab where Todd Block and other lab technicians perform product testing duties. They make composite samples which is essentially a small sample of each sample drawn from a specific production lot size. The composite sample is then tested for standard plate counts such as, yeast, mold and other microbes. They also check for other items such as moisture and fat so they ensure the product meets the specification required. All salmonella testing is conducted off site, by an independent laboratory.
“Once the retained sample is tested,” Mitchell said, “the sample is kept for three years so we can do further future testing if needed.”
Research and Development
All American Foods offers its clients the ability to take an ingredient from concept, through production trial runs to final application where a product is tested in their onsite kitchen facilities.
“We can do trial runs for people,” Mitchell said. “This basically means we can make a smaller batch of a proposed application. We then take that to our talented research and development team, led by Kathy Jacobson, to see how it fairs in the test kitchen before creating the entire application for shipment.”
The pilot plant and test kitchen areas are designed to bring applications from start to finish. They can even make different versions of a particular food item to see how it works with a particular application.
“We can test it, develop it, and tweak it right here and get immediate feedback,” Mitchell said. “Maybe they’ll say they want the sauce or the cream to be a bit thicker, we will work on making it thicker. If they want a different taste profile then we will work on that. If our research and development team is working on four different versions of a particular project, they will bring in between 10 and 12 people to taste test it.”
The All American Foods facilities are also Kosher Certified, Halal Certified and organically certified, on top of being independently audited and approved by GMA-SAFE. They also work with other regulatory agencies such as USDA, FDA, Grade A and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, to ensure their products are delivered with superior quality.
“There is more gluten free products coming to the market all of the time,” Mitchell said. “It’s what the people are asking for and that’s what we do. We will test the product to see what’s going to happen to the product when it changes to meet the needs of the market.”
Employee and Clientele Relations
All American Foods average length of employment is substantial as 31percent of their employees have been working for them for over 15 years. Sixty five percent have been employed more than 10 years. They are employee owned with all shareholders regularly involved in day to day operations.
“We have a real aggressive benefit package,” Mitchell said. “We want to retain people and the best way to do that is to train them and keep them trained. We really encourage continued education also.”
During Christmas and New Year’s, All American Foods was able to shut down their facilities in Mankato and Waseca, giving all of their employees a chance to stay home with their families. As an added bonus, their employees received the break paid without the time counting against their accrued vacation or personal days.
“We are as worried about our employees as we are our customers and I don’t know which one is more important,” Mitchell said. “Without customers you don’t need good employees and without good employees you won’t have customers. Those are our two most important assets.”