SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. — Thorny transportation challenges are among regulatory issues the flour milling relies on the North American Millers’ Association to address, said Brian Doyle, the newly-elected chairman of NAMA.
Mr. Doyle, who is president of King Milling Co., Lowell, Mich., discussed NAMA as well as his family milling business in an Oct. 1 interview with Milling & Baking News. The interview was conducted at the Royal Palms Resort and Club, Scottsdale, during the NAMA annual meeting Sept. 29-Oct. 1.
“For us, all these regulatory issues that the NAMA staff members — Dale Nellor, Jane DeMarchi and Kim Cooper — work on, the legislative matters, we can’t do that on our own,” Mr. Doyle said. “NAMA provides good value for us.”
As examples, he cited rail issues years ago.
“We called other people, too, but NAMA stepped in to help,” Mr. Doyle said.
He said at a time several years ago when peanut contamination traced back to a major flour milling company was causing disruptions in the milling industry, King Milling tested and discovered rail cars it was receiving also had traces of peanuts. NAMA provided the company with helpful information as it navigated that particular challenge, he said.
A native of Lowell, Mr. Doyle graduated from Kansas State University with a milling degree and returned to Lowell to work full time in 1980. He had worked at the mill on a part-time basis during his teenage years.
His timeline for professional development accelerated abruptly in 1983 when his father King Doyle suffered a serious heart attack. Since that time Brian Doyle has led King Milling.
“After his heart attack he was not active in day-to-day business, but we always had a 4 o’clock phone call,” he said. “He was involved in the long-term decisions until the day he died (in 2010).”
Early in his career, challenges Mr. Doyle said were a struggle included dealing with some difficult personalities that were large flour buyers of King Milling flour. Among key decisions he made during his tenure, none was more important than one in the mid-1980s to move beyond milling soft wheat native to Michigan. More equipment was installed to make the A mill a swing mill to grind wheat brought in from the hard winter and hard spring states.
“Now we mill more hard wheat than soft,” he said. “I milled it at K-state and my uncle had (Mike Doyle, who headed engineering at King Milling). So Uncle Mike designed a mill that could do it. It was getting hard to get enough customers for soft wheat, and there was all kinds of hard wheat business in our area.”
Mr. Doyle said King Milling is the only facility in Michigan that grinds hard wheat. The mill also is the largest mill in a state with seven flour mills, according to the 2022 Grain & Milling Annual, published by Sosland Publishing Co.
He described his 42 years in milling as a “long, satisfying job” enhanced now by two of his sons — Patrick and Regan — working for the company and good relations with his cousins who also work at and are shareholders in the business.
King Milling derived its name from a family that acquired the Lowell mill in 1890 out of bankruptcy. The Kings were a logging family and the Doyles, another logging family, invested in King Milling about 10 years later, Mr. Doyle said.
The two families partnered together until 1930 when the last member of the King family involved in the business died, and the Doyles assumed full control. Vestiges of the connection between the two families endure.
“We weren’t related to the Kings,” Mr. Doyle said. “My father (King Doyle) was named for Mr. King. He was Francis King, who went by the name King because he hated the name Francis. My middle name is King. My son Patrick’s middle name is King.”
Patrick has been involved in general management and Regan in operations. Both are vice presidents and fifth-generation members of the Doyle family involved in the business. Other members of the Doyle family involved in King Milling include Brian’s cousins Jim, who is an executive vice president, and Steve, a senior vice president. Steve’s son Michael, also fifth generation, recently joined the company.
Among crises that faced King Milling during its 125-year history, Mr. Doyle said a fire during World War II was a turning point. The flour mill burned in 1943 while King Doyle was at the University of Michigan. While the facility was being rebuilt, during World War II, King Doyle joined the Navy.
“The new mill started up in April 1945,” Mr. Doyle said. “It is a monolithic mill. Grandpa (William C. Doyle) had to go to the war department to get reinforcement rod because all the steel was going to the war effort. He went to Washington to get those requisitions. They built the spouting out of wood. Anything that could be made out of wood was made out of wood. The people who poured it were all in their 40s or older who put a shift in doing that while they were working their own farms because all the younger people were overseas shooting guns.”
Ten days after the rebuilt mill started up, Mr. Doyle’s grandfather William died. King Doyle, who was in the Pacific Theater, was not informed of his father’s death for another month. He received the information when his ship, which had been damaged during the Battle of Okinawa in a kamikaze attack, was on dry dock for repair.
“It was supposed to take 90 days to repair it, so his ship captain gave him 90 days to go home and settle his dad’s affairs,” Mr. Doyle said. “By the time the 90 days were up the war was over.”
King Doyle had not expected to take the reins at the mill.
“He was trained to be a lawyer,” Mr. Doyle said.
The company recruited Milton P. Fuller, an experienced General Mills flour miller in Kansas, to run the mill and to prepare King Doyle to lead it. Mr. Fuller served as general manager from 1945-50.
Today, King Milling’s mill in Lowell has 17,000 cwts of daily flour production capacity. In addition to the A mill’s 8,000 cwts (a swing mill between soft wheat and hard wheat), the complex has a B mill with 5,000 cwts of hard wheat milling capacity and a C mill dedicated to whole wheat flour production with 4,000 cwts of capacity.
Earlier this year, the company announced plans to build a D mill with 7,500 cwts of daily milling capacity and room for expansion to 10,000 cwts in the building in the future.
The foundation was poured on Oct. 4 and the mill was set to be operational by December 2023.
King Milling remains a significant miller of soft flour, and Mr. Doyle said the company and other soft millers have benefited from continued good demand for indulgent baked foods.
“People tell you one thing, but when they get to the grocery store they buy what they want to eat,” he said. “It’s comfort food. That’s why soft wheat products are still around. I had a professor in college in 1980 who said people are going all healthy and there would be no donuts in the future and they are still here.”
During the NAMA annual meeting, an initial meeting of a strategic planning committee was held in which three presentations from professional facilitators were considered and Roots and Legacies Consulting from Manhattan, Kan., was selected.
“I’m enthused about it,” he said. A planning session a couple years ago resulted in a plan that ultimately was not embraced and “ended up on a shelf collecting dust,” he added.“The goal here is to get total buy in and make it a working document,” he said. We’re hoping for buy in from some of the mills that don’t come to NAMA. The hope is they see value and come to the meetings.”