Achieving Shearer growth

<p>Shearer's Foods Plant Manager Paul Chapman, right, shows the corn used in the new cooked corn tortilla chip expansion at the facility to Hermiston Mayor Dave Drotzmann during a tour Monday.</p>

Although the name “Shearer’s” is not printed on many bags of tortilla and potato chips, the Hermiston food processor manufactures many chip varieties that appear on the shelves of local stores and is making even more following a facility expansion.

Shearer’s Foods completed a $4 million expansion project in May enabling the business to create cooked corn tortilla chips and, on Monday, received a $175,000 forgivable loan from the Governor’s Strategic Reserve Program.

The award to help offset unforeseen wastewater equipment costs during the expansion will not have to be repaid if Shearer’s meets certain conditions, according to Melisa Jo Drugge, an eastern region business development officer for the Oregon Business Development Department, which administers the reserve program. The conditions include maintaining, for two years, the pre-expansion workforce of 337 employees and the 32 workers added by the expansion, she said.

“(The department) focuses on key industries throughout the state,” she said. “These awards are often tied to businesses in those key industries that want to expand. ... Food processing is one of the top industries in the state.”

Scott Fairley, eastern regional coordinator for the Eastern Regional Solutions Center, attended the award presentation and said Gov. John Kitzhaber is “all about creating jobs in Oregon.”

“The expansion here at Shearer’s, 32 new employees, is a great thing,” he said. “As a state, we are more than happy to do what we can to help Shearer’s and other similar companies expand in this area. I think, as everybody knows, the whole opportunities around agriculture, and value-added agriculture in particular, are just huge for our region.”

Mayor Dave Drotzmann also said the company’s growth was beneficial for the area.

“I love to see the corporations and companies in our region take advantage of the opportunities that we have here and expand,” he said. “We stand by our motto, ‘You Can GROW Here,’ and this is another example of that.”

Shearer’s Plant Manager Paul Chapman said working with city, county and state officials helped during the expansion.

“It was a $4 million project, and it was great to work with the state and county and city to help offset some of the costs,” he said. “The key thing here, for us, is we need to hire more associates, and that means we provide more labor and more to the local economy.”

THE NEW EXPANSION

Chapman said Shearer’s has hired more employees to operate the new equipment purchased during the expansion.

“We have added at least 35 (employees), with the potential to add a lot more,” he said. “Cooked corn, right now, is adding a minimum three to four days additional volume for us with the potential for more, as well, as we grow with more customers.”

The expansion allowed Shearer’s to make a new type of tortilla chip from cooked corn, instead of corn flour, he said.

“Before, when we made tortilla chips, it was basically corn flour in bags, which we would mix with water and then make chips,” he said. “Now, it’s the more authentic way, which is you actually take the corn, you cook that corn, you soak it for six to 10 hours, you mill it. It makes a different type of tortilla chip.”

Chapman said the texture and flavor is different, and many of the food processor’s customers prefer the cooked corn chips. Customers for Shearer’s are actually the companies that put their brand name on the bags purchased by consumers at grocery stores.

“Shearer’s is basically a co-packer or a co-manufacturer, so we don’t make a lot of products with the name ‘Shearer’s,’ ” he said. “If you go to a local grocery store, you will see products that are made at this plant that will not have our name on it. ... There will be anywhere from four to seven different labels, and as many as 30 of our products in bags, different flavors, out on the shelves that are made here.”

The different batches can have different recipes, specifications and flavors, he said.

“Sometimes it’s a different process, different thickness, different texture,” Chapman said. “A tortilla chip, as an example, some customers might want blisters and a thin chip. Some customers might want a hard, crunchy chip. We have the ability to make any type of chip that a customer wants.”

PREVIOUS AND FUTURE EXPANSIONS

In addition to the two types of tortilla chips offered in that department, Shearer’s also has two other departments for potato chips, which use local potatoes from Oregon and Washington, Chapman said.

“We have what we call automatic potato chips, and then we have hand-kettled potato chips,” he said.

Along with a 100,000-square-foot warehouse, the hand-kettled chip department was added in a previous expansion about four years ago, Chapman said.

In 2010, the Hermiston plant employed about 180 people, he said. Although the fall season is the slow time of year, Chapman said, with the new expansion, the plant is now employing about 345 or 350 people.

The facility still has room to grow, he said.

“We have capacity to expand in two different areas,” Chapman said. “One is with the existing equipment on lines that we have as we continue to get new customers or expand with the customers that we have. The other would be for actual expansion, new equipment. We do have space in this facility to add new equipment, as well.”

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