New snack brings jobs

Maria Ines Campos prepares ingredients Thursday for riceworks crisps at Snack Alliance Inc. in Hermiston. Sarah Britain/The Hermiston Herald

Snack Alliance Inc. has delivered on its promise of creating family-wage jobs and a nutritious alternative to potato and corn chips - riceworks.

Patrick Lindenbach, chairman of Snack Alliance Inc., said one of his company's biggest concerns is providing full-time, living-wage jobs with benefits and the company has done just that. Snack Alliance created 30 jobs when it expanded the plant to make room for its new product, riceworks.

A partnership with the city, county, port and the state made the expansion possible.

"Our culture is to make sure employees have full-coverage insurance," Lindenbach said.

The Hermiston plant has 90 workers who produce potato chips, cheese curls, flavored popcorn and riceworks.

Riceworks is a gourmet brown rice crisp product Snack Alliance has launched in the United States, Great Britain, Canada and Asia. It's made from all-natural ingredients and contains no wheat, gluten, trans fat, cholesterol, preservatives or artificial flavors and has 33 percent less fat than potato chips.

"We introduced riceworks in fall 2006 in selected cities," Lindenbach said. "It's a global brand. It is outselling Triscuits in Canada."

What makes riceworks a great product, he said, is its repeat purchase power. More than half of those in the United Kingdom who try riceworks, buy it again.

"It's a healthy product," he said.

The 55,000-square-foot building on Highway 207 contains enough equipment to run the four snack food lines with machines running two shifts, six days a week. On most lines, there are several conveyor belts sending product through different seasonings.

Workers watch conveyor belts loaded with chips, cheese curls, popcorn and riceworks crisps, pulling out pieces that have burnt edges, irregular shapes or just are not quite up to snuff. At the end of the lines, crews grab the filled bags with snack foods and place them in boxes, ready to ship.

Les Livengood, business finance officer for the Oregon Economic & Community Development Department, who helped bring together the partnership with Snack Alliance, was astounded.

"This is amazing," he said. "The diversity of product really give them a competitive, sustainable business. I am amazed by the diversity of the product."

Dennis Barnett, a member of the Hermiston Development Corp., agreed. He said it was amazing how far technology has come to allow Snack Alliance to produce so many different products.

While the cheese curls were headed to Albertson's - which was Snack Alliance's first customer when it started 11 years ago - the potato chips were being packaged in boxes that said Clover Club on the side. The riceworks bags were headed to Costco, Target and locally to Big Lots.

The partnership between the city of Hermiston, Umatilla County, the Port of Umatilla, the state and Snack Alliance Inc. is a good one, said Ed Brookshier, Hermiston city manager.

"When they first started, I was really impressed with their professionalism," Brookshier said. "What we're seeing is what we saw from the beginning. This is absolutely a product that is going to continue to expand and grow, especially in Asian and southern markets."

The city expanded its Urban Growth Boundary to include Snack Alliance. The expansion allowed Snack Alliance to take advantage of the enterprise zone, a tax incentive for the company.

"We're very pleased with how our partnership with the city of Hermiston and the state of Oregon has developed over the years," said Lindenbach. "We believe riceworks will be a leading global snack brand, and our team in Hermiston will play an integral role in this product's development. Specifically, this plant will allow us to better service our western North American customers as well as provide a manufacturing platform for expansion."

Lindenbach anticipates more growth, especially for the local job market.

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