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A puff of fresh carrot

Fosston, Minn. — Who says you can’t teach an old carrot new tricks?

Over the past 14 years, through tightened export markets and a fire in 1997, Minnesota Dehydrated Vegetables stayed alive by finding new ways to market old favorites. Its most recent success: puffed dried carrots that can be rejuvenated to their original state in three microwave minutes.

When export markets slowed last year after September 11, “we turned around” and went into puffed carrots, says sales manager Jim Noyes. The instant veggies are in high demand with domestic manufacturers of soups and other instant foods, he says. “It’s a quality product, and it exceeds a lot of the specifications set by the customers.”

MDV’s other major lines are cross-cut carrots, carrots for pet foods, potatoes for hashes and soup mixes, and blended vegetables. Customers include packers for institutional food lines, instant soup companies and premium pet food manufacturers.

“We contract all our carrots prior to planting,” Noyes says. MDV also buys carrots on the cull market from other packers.

From its beginning, MDV has received AURI technical help as it developed new products. Currently under development, Noyes says, are instant potatoes, instant wild rice and instant beans. Processed at MDV’s Fosston plant, the foods are prepared to have the “ability to rehydrate at a rapid rate in the microwave,” Noyes says. Potential customers include large name-brand manufacturers of quick-to-prepare meals.

Other new markets for MDV, Noyes says, include small package sales and bidding on government contracts for institutional food packages.

And even with last year’s economic slowdown, Noyes says, “I see a lot more European markets (and other) export markets becoming available right now — some due to the dollar, some due to (our) quality standards.”

MDV employs about 70 workers and had annual sales of about $7 million in 2002.