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World-wise Earthwise

Moorhead, Minn. – The international marketplace may be huge and daunting, but that doesn’t mean it takes a dinosaur-size company to reach it. Just ask Earthwise Processors LLC. This small company, owned by six producers, is in its fourth year of selling specialty grains to markets as far away as Tokyo.

And soon Earthwise will be offering several new products – including bread mixes, organic oils and tortilla chips – to its customers in Japan, Korea, Europe and the United States.

“Our competition is global,” including companies “from countries we have never heard of,” says Curt Petrich, Earthwise board president and manager of the company’s processing plant in Moorhead, Minn.

Earthwise markets bulk quantities of identity-preserved, organic and non-GMO grains, such as soybeans, wheat and sunflowers. The producer-owned company also supplies ingredients to manufacturers. “We can sidestep brokers, deal with our customers directly and provide specific products that meet their specifications,” Petrich says.

Since demand has exceeded the supply that Earthwise members can produce, the company contracts with local growers for an additional 40,000 to 50,000 acres – primarily soybeans.

New products, new direction

While bulk grain sales are the mainstay of Earthwise’s business, the company is expanding its line to boost revenues. With the help of a $95,000 USDA grant, the company is developing three new products.

Premixes, such as bread mix, are being designed for Japanese markets. Because premixes are subject to lower import tariffs than raw commodities or ingredients, they are attractive to exporters.

Earthwise owners also hope to expand their markets for high-oleic sunflower oils, which are considered “heart friendly” and have been shown to help reduce cholesterol.

The company recently took over a company producing organic tortilla chips for European markets. Petrich says they will use USDA grant funds to help improve the chips’ packaging to appeal to more distributors.

Expanding processing

The Earthwise Moorhead plant does not yet have the capacity to process the new products – they will be contract manufactured elsewhere. But in the future, the company hopes to expand and do more of its own value-added processing.

Petrich says the company’s foray into new markets with new products should not only increase revenue streams, but “will give us a feel for what additional processing involves, give us a taste of the marketplace, let us look around for other opportunities and better serve our customers.”

Petrich says there is already interest from Korean, European and Japanese customers for the new products.

While Earthwise’s markets are primarily overseas, Petrich says domestic markets are not being overlooked. “The U.S. market is growing,” Petrich says. Japanese consumers have a longer history of paying particular attention to their food source so “the Japanese market is mature and they purchase a significant volume. But the domestic markets hold a lot of promise, especially with the growing interest in organic and non-GMO.”

“Earthwise has a proven track record … building on the diversity of markets they can serve … and not settling for commodity prices,” says Michael Sparby, AURI project development director. “They’re increasing opportunities for producers.”