Darlington began producing soft-bake products in its new Joplin, MO plant.

Darlington, Noblesville, IN, is entering a new era. Though the international snack company has been around since 1982, it has always relied on contract manufacturing to produce its products under the Darlington, Appleways and Crave-N-Rave brands.

“We got to a point in our path that we needed to take the next step, which was to look at building our own manufacturing plant,” said Ryan Hockemeyer, senior vice-president and general manager, brands division. “We were out looking at a potential manufacturing plant to purchase and were also looking at building here locally in Indiana, when somebody reached out to one of our employees and said, ‘Hey, I found something you guys maybe might be looking for.’”

That “something” was an Annie’s Homegrown plant in Joplin, MO, that was up for sale. After purchasing the plant from General Mills in May of 2016 through its manufacturing division, HS Baking Enterprises, Darlington went to work getting it ready for production. It received substantial grant awards from the state of Missouri and the city of Joplin to get up and running, allowing them to train and reemploy displaced workers from the Annie’s plant and to purchase new equipment.

“The manufacturing plant has three oven lines, and we replaced one of the lines with a brand new, state-of-the-art oven,” Mr. Hockemeyer said. “That took some time to get up and running, and we’re still getting the kinks out of it. Turning on an oven isn’t like turning on a switch; we’ve got to go through the process of making sure everything works correctly and to make sure that our formulas work with this new oven.”

Currently, the plant employs 27 people working one shift four days a week with a day for cleanup. Mr. Hockemeyer indicated that the eventual goal is to run three full shifts and employ about 120 people. The company has already begun production on some of its cracker products as well as soft-bake items.

“It’s a transitional phase of getting Joplin up and running and moving our lines over there.” Mr. Hockemeyer said.  “Right now the main focus is our Appleways product line.”

Though the company’s products have traditionally been produced for the foodservice industry, the company also indicated that it is now opening up to the vending and retail markets.