Corn miller celebrates new $8 million line

by Laurie Gorton
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ST. JOSEPH, MO. — LifeLine Foods welcomed its investors and corn suppliers to a grand opening celebration of the successful startup of new corn milling capacity at its St. Joseph facility last week. The festivities applauded an investment of more than $8 million. There will be more enhancements to come, executives told bakingbusiness.com.

The company installed new corn tempering equipment, degerminators, roller mills and sifters from Bühler AG, Uzwil, Switzerland. The new mill can grind 50 tons (100,000 lbs) per hour. Managers said the new mill not only improved yield but also food safety. It is the first of its kind to be installed in North America.

LifeLine achieved SQF Level 2 certification two years ago and was recertified again last year.

“SQF is a requirement for many of the large food companies just to get in the door,” explained Robin M. Venn, chief executive officer.

The company is more than ready for the big changes about to sweep through the food manufacturing world as regulations under the Food Safety Modernization Act (F.S.M.A.) come into effect.

“We are now way ahead of everybody else in our ability to perform real-time auditing of food safety,” Mr. Venn said.

“The new system brought us up to F.S.M.A. standards now being proposed,” said Mike Sobetski, vice-president of environmental, regulatory compliance and quality assurance.

The new sifters, for example, are engineered to eliminate pan cleaners, a potential source for foreign material in older systems. Other changes also were made, including the elimination of open bucket elevators in favor of negative lift transfer systems.

The company found the needs of its customers changing and decided to alter its process to fit emerging demands. With the new equipment, it can process about 60,000 bus of corn per day.

“The impetus for us was efficiency,” Mr. Sobetski said, “and we sought new technology that would be more capable, to make more product with less cost inputs.”

The new mill helps LifeLine populate its corn ingredient menu with grits and meals, consisting of flaking grits, brewers grits, snack meal, cones and flours. The line separates the corn kernel’s bran and germ components and feeds those to the onsite ethanol plant.

LifeLine’s product line also includes yellow and white masa flours, suitable for manufacturing corn tortillas, tortilla chips, taco shells and similar products.

“The fastest growing sector in the world of corn is masa,” said Matt Gibson, Ph.D., vice-president, sales and tech services. “That’s true for us, too, and we are in the process of debottlenecking our masa plant.”

Corn ingredients tailored to extruded products, such as popular cheese-flavored corn puffs, are another growth area for the company.

As now configured, the corn milling plant can be expanded readily to increase throughput.

“These plans are already in place,” Dr. Gibson observed.

Because the mill is modular in concept, it may be quickly adapted to new products or to change the ratios of current products, Mr. Sobetski said.

“For example, if we want to make whole-grain products, we would get that module and plug it in,” he said.

The company staged the corn mill’s grand opening to coincide with the annual meeting for its majority owner, AgraMarke Quality Grains, a cooperative of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa farmers.

Installation of the new equipment took place last fall, with commissioning over the winter. AgraMarke raised $8 million in equity for the project, an investment that Mr. Venn described as an important commitment by the co-op’s farmer-owners to LifeLine Foods. They also make a personal commitment by designating LifeLine as their preferred corn destination.

LifeLine has plenty of expansion space within the facility. AgraMarke, which formed in 1996, acquired the St. Joseph plant formerly owned by Quaker Oats in 2001. The location has more than 1 million square feet under roof and 34 acres on site.
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