ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston responds to sweet potato trend with new facility plans
A subsidiary of Fortune 500 company ConAgra Foods, Lamb Weston has produced quality specialty potato products for restaurants and food retailers for more than 60 years. The company sells products in more than 100 countries, including various appetizers and potato products like fries.
From 1998 to 2008, sweet potatoes experienced a 25 percent jump in per capita consumption, emerging as the fastest growing side order in the food-service industry. The increasing demand for sweet potatoes was a market opportunity that ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston could not ignore. ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston was suited to meet this increase in demand, but they needed to expand their production capacity in order to grow their share of this emerging sector.
ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston executives and engineers developed plans for a large-scale facility dedicated to high-quality, frozen sweet potato products. It was crucial for the company to exceed the industry standards of quality, so the proposed features of the plant would establish new quality standards for processing and packaging. Enhancing the skillset of plant employees would be crucial to support the advanced facility.
As a food producer and responsible corporate partner, ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston sought to build a facility that was environmentally efficient. To support their growth objectives, the company also needed to build a partnership with local agriculture organizations to cultivate the best raw materials.
The plans for ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston’s new facility required a solid infrastructure. To achieve this, the company needed support from the local community in which it would invest.
Louisiana offers partnerships, talent pool for planned facility
With a long history of growing high-quality sweet potatoes, Louisiana was a potential location for ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston’s new facility in 2007. Presented with an opportunity to develop a landmark new facility and support a responsible corporate partner, Delhi and LED responded. Meeting with ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston leadership in 2007, LED officials quickly identified a solution to one of the company’s major needs.
Not only did Louisiana’s farmers grow and produce an abundance of sweet potatoes, but it had an academic institution with an extensive history of cultivating the right environment for the highest-quality potatoes. LED made arrangements for and proposed a partnership between ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston researchers and agricultural specialists at the LSU AgCenter Sweet Potato Research Station near the town of Gilbert in Northeast Louisiana. The research station is the only facility of its kind in the world devoted to sweet potato development. The proposed partnership between ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston and the LSU AgCenter would sustain a profitable crop for both farmers and the company.
“Not only is the state of Louisiana known for its high-quality sweet potatoes, it offers a great environment for business and a skilled workforce.”
State and local economic development partners also identified Delhi as an ideal location for ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston’s new facility. In addition to access to transportation infrastructure and fertile soil for nearby crop cultivation, an added benefit of this location was the presence of a skilled workforce. The local workforce was familiar with the processes involved in agricultural cultivation, as well as manufacturing.
The skills of this talent pool would be crucial for the success of the project, but with the state-of-the-art plans for the facility, it was equally important for them to be trained on the company’s culture and processes. To support the skills development of the local talent, LED FastStart® — the No. 1 workforce recruitment and training program in the nation — would create a customized recruiting, screening and training package for ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston.
LED officials knew the state could provide the right environment and human capital for ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston’s growth goals. LED officials offered ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston up to $37.4 million in assistance from Louisiana’s performance-based Mega Project Development Fund. Local partners also rose to the challenge. The City of Delhi expanded its sewer and water capacity to accommodate the Lamb Weston facility, and Richland Parish would contribute funding toward an access road and other site infrastructure.
Sweet potato processor puts roots down in Louisiana
With this financial assistance in place, ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston was well-equipped to embark on a groundbreaking project. In August 2009, ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston announced it would invest $211 million to $256 million to build the first large-scale processing facility in the world dedicated to high-quality, frozen sweet potato products in Delhi, outside of Monroe.
When construction began on the facility in Delhi, ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston carefully implemented the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, standards for environmentally sustainable construction.
The company completed construction on the facility in June 2011, and began the hiring process to fill the newly created jobs at the site and training the new employees with the services provided by LED FastStart. The new staff was apprised on the best practices to fulfill the company’s goal of producing a high-quality product and to contribute to the facility’s environmental responsibility plans. Additionally, LED FastStart provided recruitment videos, which were used at ConAgra job fairs. It also provided company-specific safety training for new employees.
Through its partnership with the LSU AgCenter Sweet Potato Research Station, ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston was able to contribute to and benefit from the research at the facility. An important function of the research station is to produce virus-free foundation seeds for farmers.
Delhi facility certified LEED Platinum project
ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston’s environmentally responsible practices, combined with the plant’s sustainable building design, provided multiple environmental, economic, health and community benefits, including water conservation and a substantial reduction in energy usage.
The U.S. Green Building Council certified the Delhi facility as a LEED Platinum project, making it the first frozen food manufacturing plant in the world to earn that certification. ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston installed energy-saving equipment to make the site 40 percent more efficient than a conventional plant. In August 2011, Food Processing magazine recognized the ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston Delhi site as its 2011 Green Plant of the Year.