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Food company JUST plants roots on the prairie with acquisition of Appleton's Del Dee Foods

A San Francisco-based company seeing sales growth in its plant-based egg product is acquiring Del Dee Foods of Appleton. The Appleton company has been extracting protein from mung bean flour to produce JUST Egg. JUST has invested millions of dollars in new equipment in Appleton and increased staffing there.

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Josh Tetrick, left, co-founder of JUST, and Mike Lind, CEO of Del Dee Foods, visit in the processing facility in Appleton. The facility will allow JUST to expand its production of JUST Egg. The facility has gone from 17 employees to 41 in the past year due to an increased demand by JUST for processing. Photo courtesy of Eat JUST Inc.

APPLETON — A company devoted to producing healthy and sustainable food for global markets has just planted roots on the western Minnesota prairie in Appleton.

Josh Tetrick, co-founder of Eat JUST Inc., told residents at a gathering Dec. 11 in Appleton that it is acquiring the Del Dee processing plant at year’s end. Tetrick said the company has already invested millions of dollars in new processing equipment for the 30,000-square-foot facility in Appleton, and has intentions of investing more.

Employment at the facility has grown from 17 just one year ago to 41 today as Del Dee Foods has increased its processing to meet growing demand from JUST .

Tetrick said he is hopeful of seeing continued growth and of adding employees in Appleton. He told the Appleton employees last week that they are now JUST team members with full benefits and equity in the company. The company was valued at more than $1 billion in 2017, according to information from JUST.

“I keep hearing, ‘this is good for Appleton,’” said Tetrick at the Appleton gathering. “This is so good for us,” he said. “Appleton is good for us.”

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The company has been contracting with Del Dee Foods in Appleton for over a year to extract protein from mung bean flour. The extracted protein is the “building block” of its plant-based JUST Egg, which is seeing dramatic sales increases, according to Andrew Noyes, head of global communications for JUST. It’s sold nationwide in 20 of the 23 top retail food companies, and is establishing markets in China, Singapore and through partnerships with one of the largest egg companies and a prominent poultry company in Europe.

The liquid JUST Egg is cholesterol-free, dairy-free, non-GMO, kosher-certified, and has a protein content nearly identical to chicken eggs. While popular in the vegan market, Noyes said more than 70 percent of its customers are omnivores.

“They are opting to diversify their diets,” he said. There is a growing consumer preference for foods that are healthy and good for the environment, he added.

JUST Egg is typically sold in the egg cases of retail stores, often in partnership with egg companies, Noyes said. The plant-based product does not cannibalize chicken egg sales, he said.

JUST Egg was developed by scientists at the company’s headquarters in San Francisco. There, Tetrick said a staff of 120, most of whom are scientists and engineers, are examining a wide variety of plants to create healthier and more sustainable foods.

He said there are hundreds of thousands of plants in the world, and yet people use less than 1 percent of them. He was motivated to pursue changes to the global food system while working for non-governmental organizations in Africa.

A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Tetrick and partner Josh Balk created Hampton Creek, which was one of three companies featured by Bill Gates in “The Future of Food.”

Del Dee Foods was established in 1972 by the late Del Droogsma. It was a pioneer in drying and using whey as a food product. Along with drying whey, the company in more recent years has been performing protein extraction and other work for a variety of different companies, according to Mike Lind, its CEO. He and his spouse, Lori Lind, who is Droogsma's daughter, are co-owners. They plan to transition out of the company. Lori’s brother John Droogsma will remain as production manager.

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“This is our dream, to pass this on and not have an auction sale where the equipment leaves and the building sits empty,” Lori Lind told the Appleton gathering.

The company is one of the larger employers in the community of about 1,400. Tetrick said it is operating 24 hours a day, six days of the week, and preparing for seven-day-a-week operations.

Mike Lind said it’s possible the Appleton facility could also play a role in other food products for JUST.

“We really think that Appleton can be a hub for new technology making everyday food better,” JUST co-founder Tetrick said.

The Appleton facility is part of a 40-acre property, offering room for growth.

Mike Lind said the partnership between JUST and Del Dee evolved well. He said the JUST team offered the scientific know-how for its product, while the Del Dee staff offered the experience with manufacturing equipment and production. The extracted protein leaves the Appleton facility in a powder form and is processed with other ingredients and water into the JUST Egg product at other facilities.

The Appleton facility includes processing equipment, a laboratory, warehouse space, and room for the addition of more processing equipment.

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Related Topics: MANUFACTURINGAPPLETON
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