Boardman home to global partnership

Yasuo Nakata and Ron Offutt share a laugh at the ribbon cutting of the new RDO-Calbee Foods plant in Boardman. The joint venture produces Jagabee, a new potato product.

By Karen Hutchinson-Talaski

Staff writer

BOARDMAN — A joint venture between an American and a Japanese businessman could spell success for a little product called Jagabee.

Jagabee is a potato snack which looks like a french fry and tastes like a shoestring potato. The snack is made in Calbee Foods' plant in Japan. The potatoes, however, come from Threemile Canyon Farms in Boardman and are cleaned, cut and frozen at the new RDO-Calbee Foods plant near the Port of Morrow.

Ron Offutt, chairman and CEO of R.D. Offutt Company, and Yasuo Nakata, president and CEO of Calbee Foods, met in the fall of 2005, when Nakata was launching Jagabee. Nakata saw a way to get Offutt involved in the process by providing the potatoes for Calbee; and RDO-Calbee Foods was born.

"It was the opportunity of a lifetime," Nakata told the crowd at the ribbon-cutting ceremony held on Wednesday.

Without RDO, he said, his product could not succeed. His dream is for RDO potatoes to be sent to other global markets — making American potatoes a global commodity.

From the very first bite of Jagabee, Offutt said, he "fell in love with it."

"It has great potential in the Far East and the USA," he added.

The new 66,000-square-foot processing plant has a total of 50 employees, with three shifts of operation. The dozen or so employees who work inside the plant do not touch the potatoes. They are mainly machine operators, according to Gene Jensen, vice president of operations for RDO-Calbee Foods.

The machines scrub potatoes that are shipped from Threemile Canyon Farms and slightly peeled — Jagabee has a peel on it — and then put on conveyor belts to the next machine which slices the potatoes. Another machine cuts out blemishes and defects. Then the spuds are cooked, cooled and froze — ready to be shipped to Japan on refrigerated containers on barges from the Port of Morrow.

"It's a win-win situation," said Jensen of the Offutt/Nakata partnership.

Karen Hutchinson-Talaski can be reached at

ktalaski@hermistonherald.com.

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