Fred Merrill, milling's leading entrepreneur, dies at 91

by Josh Sosland
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Fred Merrill, Grain Craft
Fred L. Merrill established the business he named Cereal Food Processors, Inc., in 1972.

MISSION WOODS, KAS. — Fred L. Merrill, who from establishing a modest flour milling business built the largest independent company in the U.S. milling industry, died Oct. 20 at the age of 91.

Mr. Merrill established the business he named Cereal Food Processors, Inc., in 1972, by acquiring a single mill in Cleveland. When the company was sold in 2014 to Milner Milling Co. and Pendleton Flour Mills, his Cereal Foods operated 10 flour mills across the United States and was eclipsed in size only by ADM Milling Co., Cargill and ConAgra Mills.

A native of Kansas City, Mr. Merrill grew up in the milling business. His father, Elmo F. Merrill, spent more than 40 years in flour milling, mainly as general manager of Moore-Lowry Flour Mills. Fred Merrill’s first job was with Wichita Flour Mills, Inc., a company with the same ownership as Moore-Lowry. A graduate and longtime avid supporter of Kansas State University, Mr. Merrill began his college career at the University of Kansas. Following military service in World War II, he attended K.S.U., graduating with a bachelor’s degree in milling administration in 1949.

Mr. Merrill began his flour milling career in 1950 as manager of the grain department of Wichita Flour Mills. He was named general manager in 1955 and left the company 10 years later to join ADM Milling Co. He was promoted to president of ADM Milling before leaving the business in 1971.

A year later he founded C.F.P. with the acquisition from International Multifoods Corp. of a 6,500-cwt flour mill in Cleveland. In 1972, Cereal Foods acquired from the Moore family the Wichita mill where Mr. Merrill had worked initially.

The company’s third mill, the Sunshine Biscuits mill in Kansas City, Kas., was acquired by C.F.P. in 1976, and its fourth, Terminal Flour Mills in Portland, Ore., was acquired in 1982.

Two years later, Cereal Foods leapt into the ranks of the industry’s largest milling companies with the acquisition of four flour mills from ConAgra, Inc. ConAgra was required to divest the mills in connection with its 1982 acquisition of Peavey Co. The mills, located in Ogden and Salt Lake City in Utah, and Billings and Great Falls in Montana, more than doubled the daily milling capacity of C.F.P. Smaller acquisitions were completed in the years that followed, including a Los Angeles mill from The Pillsbury Co. in 1987, a dry corn mill from Safeway Stores, Inc., in 1985, and Wall-Rogalsky Milling Co., McPherson, Kas., in 2000.

In the years before C.F.P. was acquired in 2014, Mr. Merrill was less active in the business because of declining health. After the transaction, the combined business was renamed Grain Craft. C.F.P. mills account for about two thirds of the company’s milling capacity.

Mr. Merrill was a longtime member of the North American Millers’ Association board of directors and was chairman of the group (then known as the Millers’ National Federation) from 1994-96. He also served as president of the Wheat Quality Council and the Kansas Wheat Improvement Association

In 2005, Mr. Merrill was awarded the Medal of Excellence by Kansas State University, the highest honor awarded by K.S.U.

In addition to flour milling, Mr. Merrill for a number of years was involved in commercial banking. He was the founder and chairman of Mission Hills Bank, which focused on the Kansas City area, and later joined the board of Fourth Financial Corp., a regional banking company He was a trustee of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and was on the board of the American Royal. He served as an elder and chairman of the Country Club Christian Church and was on the board of the Kansas Nature Conservancy.

Mr. Merrill was preceded in death by his father Elmo Merrill and mother Bernice Merrill. Survivors include his wife of 67 year Virginia May Urban Merrill; daughter Melanie Thompson (Wayne Thompson); son Fred Merrill Jr. (Candy Merrill); daughter Melinda Merrill; daughter Merrie Costello (David Costello); sister Jeane Rhule; 11 grandchildren and 7 great grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 3:00 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 23 at Country Club Christian Church, 6101 Ward Parkway, Kansas City, MO. Friends and family are invited to a reception at Carriage Club directly following the service.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Kansas State University Endowment Association or the Music Department of Country Club Christian Church.
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